Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category

The point of “Black Lives Matter”

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Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 8:38 pm

Florida Pol Threatens to Put ‘Hit Squad’ on Rival Congressional Candidate

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Guess that politician’s political party. (One guess only, please.)

Benjamin Hart reports in New York:

An obscure Florida Republican congressional candidate was heard on a recording claiming that he could send a “hit squad” after a leading GOP candidate in the race.

Politico reports that William Braddock, a 37-year-old lawyer, made the comments about Anna Paulina Luna, who is running for a vacant seat in Florida’s 13th District. Braddock was speaking with Erin Olszewski, a conservative activist who was so alarmed by the conversation that she turned it over to the police.

“I really don’t want to have to end anybody’s life for the good of the people of the United States of America,” Braddock said, according to Politico.
“That will break my heart. But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Luna is a f—ing speed bump in the road. She’s a dead squirrel you run over every day when you leave the neighborhood.”

Later, Braddock said that to make sure Luna didn’t win the race, he would “call up my Russian and Ukrainian hit squad, and within 24 hours, they’re sending me pictures of her disappearing,” adding that he wasn’t joking.

Asked by Politico whether it was him on the recording, Braddock dissembled, and claimed the tape may have been altered.

On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Luna had obtained a stalking injunction against Braddock, who she claims is working with two other political adversaries to kill her. One of them, Amanda Makki, ran against Luna in a primary for the same congressional seat last year.

“I received information yesterday (at midnight) regarding a plan (with a timeline) to murder me made by William Braddock in an effort to prevent me from winning the election for FL-13,” she wrote.

Luna claimed that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 4:05 pm

The Historian and the Murderer

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Dominique K. Reill, an associate professor in modern European history at the University of Miami, and the author most recently of The Fiume Crisis: Life in the Wake of the Habsburg Empire, writes in Zócalo:

On May 14, 2018, I was led into a nondescript courtroom in Kew Gardens, Queens to testify at a murder trial. I am a historian who loves details, and the resources involved in getting me into that humdrum room to be questioned with a jury to my left, a judge to my right, and a murderer sitting in front of me astounded. An entire system of asking, telling, tracking, and filing for the grand finale of live community listening and judging: no wonder so many historians love to study court cases.

From years of obsessively watching Law & Order, I had assumed my questioning would focus on the titillations mass media devours—which was how my name was associated with the crime in the first place. My involvement with the case did not begin January 31, 2015 when the 42-year-old Croatian historian William Klinger was shot twice in an Astoria park in broad daylight and left to die. After he was declared dead in a New York City emergency room, no one had informed me because I was irrelevant to his life. Three weeks later, however, I got emails and calls because the murderer claimed I was part of why Klinger had died.

Police determined that Klinger had been in the park alone with a friend, 49-year-old Alexander Bonich. They also discovered that Klinger had wired $85,000 to Bonich in order to purchase an apartment in Astoria. Anyone who knows anything about New York real estate can smell a rat in this story. An apartment in Astoria costs about $700,000, if you’re very lucky. In New York City, real estate fraud is a believable motive for killing. Bonich was arrested posthaste.

To counter the murder charge, Bonich insisted he shot Klinger out of self-defense. As Bonich told police and then a New York Times journalist, on the day of his death Klinger behaved strangely. He seemed unhinged, filled with emotional rage triggered by the fact that he had deserted his family in Europe “to meet a woman named Dominique.” With Klinger coming at him, Bonich insisted he had shot Klinger to forestall Klinger doing the same to him.

There are very few people connected with Croatian academia who share my first name. Within minutes of the New York Times article giving Bonich’s side of the story going live, a friend wrote me an email to alert me. Within an hour, my inbox was filled with queries from journalists and police. The idea that Klinger’s grieving wife and children would have to suffer the killer’s lies cut me to the quick and I responded by contacting anyone I could to set the record straight.

The New York Times immediately erased my name from the article they had published online. I gave journalists, police, and lawyers full access to all my communications with Klinger. At some point, the murderer had also asserted that Klinger and I had had a rendezvous in New York in the days prior to the shooting. To disprove this, it took just a few minutes to supply travel itineraries and credit card statements showing how I was nowhere near New York City at the time.

At Bonich’s trial three years later, I assumed I was being called to the stand to disprove assertions about Klinger’s relationship to me. Imagine my surprise, then, when two minutes into my deposition the prosecutor asked me, “What are the archives?”

In my professional life as a history professor at an elite research university, “what are the archives?” is a question that gets posed regularly, often by professors encouraging students to think about how history “gets made.” When the prosecutor asked me this question, it was in response to my explanation of how I had first met Klinger. I had said “I met him in the archives in Rijeka [Croatia],” assuming this was straightforward. When asked to elaborate, I still assumed that the question was not about the things I usually talk about when discussing archives, but about the nature of my relationship to the deceased.

Was it possible that the prosecutor feared the jury imagined we had met at some nightclub called “The Archives”? Maybe those Queens residents were picturing us drinking cocktails at a bar pretentiously decorated with old-school card catalogs, green banker’s lamps, and anachronistic maps? So, instead of answering what archives were in a professional sense, I focused on how unsexy—how all work, 8 a.m.-to-2 p.m. no fun—they are.

Here is where it became clear that all my assumptions about why I was in that courtroom were wrong. As I was explaining how archivists regularly introduce scholars to each other in the reading room, the defense attorney called out: “Judge, I’m going to object to the witness being nonresponsive.” Though the judge overruled the objection, the effect of the defense attorney’s intervention was significant.

From then on, my job in the almost 80 questions that followed was not to disabuse the court of ideas of adulterous encounters but instead to explain what this strange profession of “historian” was, and what role it played in bringing Klinger into that Astoria park on the day he died.

I told the jury how Klinger had attended some of the most prestigious institutions in Europe, how he had published widely in several languages, and how he was generally considered the expert in his field, even though he could not find permanent, full-time employment anywhere. A long-time motto repeated ad nauseam in academia is “Publish or perish.” In essence, I was there to explain how this historian perished in our profession even though he had published, and how his professional disappointment set him up for associating with someone who would kill him for real.

When reading over the court transcripts, it is hard to remember that we were all sitting together in that room because a man had died. The questions were not about Klinger or his murderer. Instead, they focused on the intricacies of how difficult it is for a historian to make a living.

I explained how historians can’t get academic jobs through individual merits in the U.S. or Europe. You need networks. I talked about “markets,” the expectations of what CVs (the academic term for resumes) should look like, and how getting noticed by universities is dependent not just on productivity but also on references from people of great esteem. With every explanation I gave, another question came up. What is a postdoc? What is an editor? What is a letter of recommendation? How does anyone get paid?

The questions kept coming because the answers I was giving made no sense to how people imagined someone survived as a professional historian. Weren’t historians like artists or writers? Wasn’t their worth and position dependent on the quality of what they produced? Or maybe they were like journalists, paid per column or through working on producing publications? Or maybe historians were like teachers, their employment opportunities dependent on the degrees they had obtained?

I’m sure it was confusing when I told the lawyers, judge, and jury about how the writing and publishing process works. I said: “People don’t make money working for journals; you do it as a volunteer for the state of the field. There are no paying jobs.” Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor had been under the impression that Klinger’s arrival in the United States would solve his miserable professional status in Europe. My testimony underscored that it was far from the truth—but that Klinger didn’t know it, and that’s what made him vulnerable.

Though he had published much and the solidity of his research was undeniable, Klinger had not proven himself as a man who worked within structures. He had never taught in an American classroom. He had no portfolio of teaching evaluations. He had not participated in a research facility where interdisciplinary collaboration was emphasized. He had almost no links within the wider profession, meaning there were few who could vouch for him to those outside his relatively obscure specialty. This also meant he could not help future students procure positions.

Klinger did history like a starving artist might: he worked alone, he published in the easiest and quickest (rather than the most prestigious) journals, and he struggled to broaden his profile. His lack of networks was partly a result of the fact that no one in Italy or Croatia would give him a permanent position. But it was also partly because he was so passionate about the researching and writing that he didn’t prioritize the other stuff.

I had explained to Klinger “at the archives” and in emails what I had said in court: procuring permanent employment in the United States is a slow, networked, highly professionalized process that proves unsuccessful for most. I had told him explicitly that there is no way to just publish, come, and get a job. But Klinger ignored me and decided instead to believe a man who told him what he wanted to hear.

Apparently, Bonich promised Klinger all: not just an apartment but also a job at Hunter College in New York City based on his qualifications, with no application, interview, or letters of recommendation required. That is as inconceivable as the $85,000 price tag for an Astoria apartment. Nonetheless, Klinger wanted to believe. The murderer also told the court Klinger had deserted his family in part because I had arranged a position for him as a journal editor in Maryland, one which would pay enough for him to build a new life for himself.

This, too, was not just a lie; it was impossible.

It didn’t matter that Klinger and I barely knew each other. It didn’t matter that the journal the killer named did not exist. It also didn’t matter that history journals do not pay book review editors. The killer told those lies because he thought they were believable, because that’s how he thought the historical profession worked. Just like Klinger, Bonich did not realize that there are almost no historians in the world who can survive on their writing, their editorships, or their qualifications. Historians in the United States are paid for how they work within institutions. And getting into the institutions is a herculean feat only the most obstinate should try to undertake.

We’ll never know how  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 1:46 pm

Seemingly normal: Profile of one insurrectionist — a geophysicist who seriously wounded a defenseless Capitol police officer

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Melanie Warner reports in Politico:

The text message showed up on John Bergman’s phone in late January. Sent to him by a former work colleague, it came with the question “Have you seen this??” and linked to an article and video from a news channel. Bergman pressed play.

It was a scene from the Capitol riots on January 6. Amid a throng of rioters outside the building’s western terrace tunnel was a figure wearing a tan Carhartt jacket, teal backpack, steel-toed boots and black tactical helmet. The article identified the man as Bergman’s longtime friend, Jeffrey Sabol. In the video, Sabol vaulted over a railing and appeared to drag a defenseless cop down a set of stairs.

Bergman could barely fathom what he was seeing. He had worked with Sabol for a decade and had known him for 18 years. “I’ve always revered Jeff as one of the most intelligent, capable, thoughtful, helping people,” Bergman says. “We had just spoken a few weeks earlier, and next thing I know he’s in Washington, D.C., doing this crazy thing.”

Sabol, 51, is a geophysicist from Kittredge, Colorado, a small town in the mountains outside Denver. In the weeks after the insurrection, he became one of the approximately 465 people charged so far for their participation in the January 6 insurrection. Sabol faces eight counts, several of them felonies, including the assault of police officers. He and four other defendants named in the same indictment are accused of participating in some of the day’s worst violence, which took place around 4:30 p.m. and resulted in several officers being stripped of their protective gear, dragged, stomped on, and attacked with crutches and a flagpole. [Politico article here includes a video of Sabol in action during the insurrection. – LG]

According to the indictment, Sabol wrested a baton from a second D.C. police officer who had been knocked down by another rioter outside the Capitol’s western terrace entrance, which would be the site of Joe Biden’s inauguration two weeks later. The officer later needed staples to close a wound on his head. Before being dragged into the mob by Sabol and others, prosecutors say, these officers had tried to reach a woman who died amid the throng (the D.C. medical examiner declared her death an amphetamine overdose). Images published in the government’s criminal complaint against Sabol show the woman lying on the ground at the top of the stairs wearing jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, while Sabol and other men clash with police above her.

Sabol, who is divorced and has three teenagers back home in Colorado, also seems to appear in a YouTube video shot about two hours earlier and unearthed by a Twitter user who is part of a group of self-styled “sedition hunters.” In it, Sabol, known to the sedition hunters as #OrangeNTeal because of his highly identifiable jacket and backpack, runs headfirst into a row of officers trying to hold the line and prevent rioters from breaching the west steps of the Capitol.

Denied bail, Sabol is now locked in a cell at the Washington, D.C., Correctional Treatment Facility awaiting trial, deemed by a judge to be the “epitome of a flight risk” because of what he did after the riots. Unlike defendants who posted about their Capitol exploits on social media, Sabol immediately seemed to have grasped the gravity of his post-January 6 predicament. Back home in Colorado, he destroyed several electronic devices in his microwave and instructed friends to delete anything he had sent them, according to Sabol’s own statements to investigators. Several days later, he arrived at Logan Airport in Boston with a ticket to Zurich, Switzerland. Worried he had been recognized, he never got on the plane. Instead, he rented a car and drove to New York state, eventually ending up in a suburb of New York City. At some point along the way, he tossed his phone off a bridge and grew so distraught that he attempted to take his own life by slashing his wrists and thighs, his criminal complaint states.

“I’ve really been struggling with this, that my bro tried to kill himself,” Bergman says, his voice cracking with emotion. “It scared the shit out of me.”

Sabol’s actions on January 6 and the days afterward have left many in his life confused and grappling for answers. How did a highly educated, middle-aged man with so much to lose participate in what FBI director Christopher Wray called “domestic terrorism,” and then try to kill himself? How did someone with strong views about government overreach, but also plenty of friends and neighbors outside his political bubble, end up on the steps of the Capitol, in attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results?

In some ways, Sabol’s radicalization mirrors that of other insurrectionists, a group that collectively has put a new face on American extremism. While many of those arrested for political terrorism in recent decades have been young, underemployed and socially isolated, the majority of the 465 (and counting) defendants in the Capitol attack are much like Sabol—older individuals, mostly white men, with well-established careers. A report by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats found that 67 percent of Capitol defendants are at least 35 years old, and 30 percent worked in white-collar jobs. Sabol was a geophysicist for an environmental services company. Other defendants include an investment manager at BB&T Bank (who died by suicide after his arrest), a State Department employee, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer, a real estate agent, many small-business owners, a doctor and an attorney. There are several dozen current or former military members, and at least 10 current or former law-enforcement officers. For all the public attention to right-wing groups and militias, just 12 percent of the defendants belonged to organized operations like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or boogaloo boys. The majority of the defendants, including Sabol, also came not from the heart of Trump country but from counties Biden won.

Based on multiple interviews with people who knew him, as well as extensive public records, Sabol’s story offers a vivid example of how “normal” this new form of radicalization might look from the outside—and how hard it can be to detect. Sabol, according to his ex-wife, was involved in volatile episodes at home, and court records show that he was charged with misdemeanor child abuse in 2016, for injuring his teenage son. Yet in letters sent to the court on his behalf, 30 friends, neighbors and family members, including Army officers and a Denver police sergeant, describe the man they know in glowing terms. The kind of guy who gives his jacket to an underdressed hiker and goes down a 14,000-foot mountain in a T-shirt. A guy who steps in to prevent altercations. A guy with a peace-sign tattoo on his back.

“We discussed all kinds of topics—parenting, religion, politics, relationships, work, hobbies, and life experiences. Never once did I detect any indication of him being a fanatic of any sort,” wrote a retired schoolteacher who volunteered with Sabol at a youth horse-riding organization nearly every Saturday for the past two years. “I can’t conceive of him being a danger to the community in any way.”

Nearly six months after the insurrection, hundreds of defendants are awaiting trial or plea deals as their cases move through the justice system. Sabol is among the approximately 50 who have been denied bail and are being held in jail in Washington, D.C., in their cells for nearly 20 hours a day due to Covid concerns. The Biden administration has taken a number of steps to begin to combat violent domestic extremism across different federal departments, even as Congress recently failed to agree to create a commission to study the events of January 6.

But the larger problem—of how so many Americans came to see violence or forced entry into a government building as their best options, and whether it could happen again—isn’t at all resolved. Millions of Americans continue to hold some of the same beliefs that propelled Sabol to the Capitol. Experts say the new wave of right-wing extremism on display at the Capitol is both unprecedented in its size and scope—and far more challenging to track and root out. Understanding Jeffrey Sabol’s transformation reveals how radicalization can happen under the radar, while offering lessons for those who want to combat it going forward: about how personal challenges can collide with political messages, and how a person’s job, education level, community and even their social media profile aren’t reliable predictors of extremist behavior. Thousands of people descended on the Capitol terrace, with thousands of individual routes taken to get there.

Where will they go next? “What’s concerning is that many did not see January 6 as the end of something,” says Susan Corke, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They saw it as the beginning.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it indicates that there’s trouble ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 12:11 pm

Unaccountable: The push to remake policing takes decades, only to begin again

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To balance the good news, a problem that’s more intractable than dengue. Robert Klemko and John Sullivan report in the Washington Post:

In 1988, as Joe Collum drove the New Jersey Turnpike to his new job at a local TV news station, he noticed a recurring scene on the side of the highway: White state troopers rifling through the belongings of Black and Latino motorists.

Collum, an investigative reporter, scoured arrest records in dozens of municipalities. Along the turnpike, he found, Black and Latino drivers accounted for the vast majority — 80 percent — of all state police arrests on the turnpike. “Without Just Cause,” his investigative report on WWOR-TV Secaucus, introduced the world to the term “racial profiling.”

“There was this big initiative to stop drugs coming in and out of New York City, and they were transparent about that,” Collum said, “but the troopers individually and collectively, to some degree, decided that the best way to catch people with drugs was to target dark-skinned people.”

Collum’s reporting exposed how troopers’ biases and assumptions about people of color had infected policing along New Jersey’s main artery. State police denied they were targeting minorities. But a group of attorneys, motivated by Collum’s reports, sued troopers, and a state court affirmed for the first time the existence of racial profiling by law enforcement. The Justice Department ordered an end to the practice.

But nearly 30 years later, the most recent audit revealed that Black drivers were still being subjected more often to searches, arrests and uses of force after traffic stops by state police.

The attempted reforms after Collum’s revelation of racial profiling have led to yet another chapter in the long line of attempts to cleanse policing in the United States of its persistent afflictions — an ongoing exercise in reform that never ends.

For decades, police misconduct and the use of controversial tactics have fueled cycles of outrage that have been followed by commissions, studies and orders or promises to reform. In 1929, the federal Wickersham Commission produced 14 volumes of reports documenting widespread police corruption, including the use of the “third degree” to extract confessions. Eighty-six years later, after the killing of a Black man, Michael Brown, by a White officer in Ferguson, Mo., the Obama administration convened the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which produced 116 pages of recommended changes in U.S. law enforcement.

Last year, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police renewed the calls for change.

Since then, more than 2,000 policing-related bills have been introduced nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In April, Maryland became the first state to repeal its powerful Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a set of legislative protections that included scrubbing any record of complaints against an officer after a period of time. And in Congress, the Democrat-led House in March passed a bill named for Floyd that bars chokeholds and no-knock warrants; it is stalled in the Senate.

The Washington Post examined three historic firsts in policing reforms: the effort to stop racial profiling by troopers in New Jersey, the deployment of early-warning technology to identify troubled deputies in Los Angeles and the use of federal intervention to force change on police in Pittsburgh.

The legacies of these firsts reveal the difficulty of remaking law enforcement. At each agency, the attempts have been stifled by entrenched cultures, systemic dysfunction, shifts in leadership and swings in public mood. Outrage at officers’ conduct eventually gives way to demands for aggressive enforcement when crime flares, and the cycle continues.

“Eventually, too many people get murdered, too many people get raped, and people start saying, ‘Come on. Beef up the police,’ ” said former Los Angeles County sheriff’s assistant chief Neal Tyler, who helped develop the first computerized early-warning system. “And we do that, and then slowly, eventually, we lose our resolve and the pendulum swings back the other direction, and there’s a police scandal of epic proportions.

“Like clockwork.”

A department under federal control

In 1995 in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, an officer pulled over Jonny Gammage, a Black businessman who was at the wheel of a luxury sports car. He had been stopped for erratic driving. Police wrestled Gammage to the ground, putting pressure on his chest and neck until he died of asphyxia. His last words: “I’m only 31.”

Gammage’s death, along with fatal shootings by the Pittsburgh police and other allegations of officer misconduct, pushed the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the department. The ACLU had been investigating the police for three years, gathering evidence of alleged civil rights violations, including by jump-out squads, free-roaming patrol units that stopped people on the street.

After filing suit, the ACLU asked the Justice Department to take on the case.

“A short time later, they had three attorneys in Pittsburgh hungrily downloading everything we’d learned,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director, who handled the case.

The Justice Department investigated and for the first time invoked a civil power tucked into the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, filing its own lawsuit against Pittsburgh to address a “pattern or practice” of civil rights abuses by the city’s police. In 1997, the city became the first to enter into a federal consent decree, agreeing to changes that would be monitored by the government.

In 83 paragraphs, Justice laid out a plan for the department of 900 officers, including mandates to implement diversity training, better document traffic stops, reduce the use of strip searches and track complaints filed against officers.

But when the federal monitors moved on nearly a decade later, the pressure for reform had dissipated.

Sheldon Williams, who joined the department as an officer in 1997, experienced it firsthand.

Before Williams became a Pittsburgh officer, his encounters with police had included running from them as a child in Wilkinsburg, a mostly Black borough in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. In high school, he said, his family moved to a White part of town, where Williams said most residents did not fear officers. “It’s hard to make people see the unpredictability Black Americans face when dealing with the police,” he said.

Williams, who signed up as the department pushed to diversify, took a job in a new public integrity unit, a team created to look for internal corruption. He said he thought he would be applauded for working to restore public confidence. Instead, he was shunned.

Commanders embraced the reforms, he said, but the rank and file often did not. “As I came in, I started seeing the shifts and the changes right away,” he said. “But I also heard the kicks and scrapes and the complaints about it.”

Under the consent decree, officers were taught how to navigate their own biases and understand why Black people might fear them. The decree also gave police nonlethal tools, including pepper spray, he said. “We used to get issued blackjacks to control suspects,” said Williams, referring to the leather-wrapped piece of metal with a wrist strap.

Officers had to document more precisely why they stopped and questioned people and provide more justification for the use of force.

And the department agreed to track officers accused of misconduct.

“There was a sense from members of the community that the department was doing things that increased the professionalism of the officers,” said Williams, who retired in 2011 and has since become a pastor and member of the Citizen Police Review Board.

In 2002, federal monitors pronounced the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police rehabilitated, ending the consent decree except for a provision to monitor the internal affairs department as it investigated a backlog of misconduct cases. That ended in 2005.

The decree worked initially, said David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who wrote a book about the intervention, “A City Divided.”

“It changed some of the most dysfunctional parts of the way the department was operating,” Harris said. But once the federal pressure ended, reforms slipped, he said. “When the public pressure is off, departments tend to backslide.”

In 2006, there was a newly elected mayor, and Police Chief Bob McNeilly lost his job. Old problems reemerged. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And there’s a link in the sidebar:

Accountable
An examination of policing in America amid the push for reform.

Civilian oversight is undermined by politicians and police, who contend citizens are ill-equipped to judge officers.

I would point out to politicians and police that the Secretary of Defense is, by strong tradition, a civilian.

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 7:49 pm

Be Afraid, America; Be Very Afraid

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Michael A. Cohen (the columnist, not the lawyer) writes:

Yesterday, I had an op-ed in USA Today looking at how Republican-controlled state legislatures seek to criminalize political protest in red-state America. I wrote about this issue earlier this year, but that was before any news laws had been enacted. Over the past several months, cooler heads have not prevailed, and Republican state legislatures have passed a series of bills that threaten the First Amendment-guaranteed to right to peacefully assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Here’s just a few examples that I cited in the piece:

In Oklahoma …the Republican-controlled state legislature and GOP governor granted civil and criminal immunity to drivers who “unintentionally” injure or kill protesters while driving away from a riot. In effect, Oklahoma Republicans are making it easier for drivers to run over and potentially kill political protesters.

Not to be outdone, Florida Republicans enacted a similar law as part of a larger “anti-riot” bill. Floridians who block traffic, even temporarily, could now be looking at up to 15 years in jail if convicted. The law also now classifies a public gathering of three people or more as a “riot” and anyone who chooses to participate in such a protest can now be charged with a felony – even if their behavior is not violent.

In Arkansas, a riot can involve as few as two people engaged in “tumultuous” conduct that creates a “substantial risk” of “public alarm.” Those convicted of rioting will also be required to pay restitution – and would face a mandatory 30 days in prison.

In Tennessee, simply joining a protest in which there is “isolated pushing” and no one is hurt would now be considered a crime.

The Volunteer State is a trailblazer in anti-protest laws. After Black Lives Matter demonstrators gathered for weeks on the grounds of the state Capitol last year, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill that made it a felony to camp out on state property. The bill also made it a crime to make it “unreasonably inconvenient” to use a street or sidewalk – and those found guilty could face up to one year in jail. The governor signed it last August.

Other states have passed laws making it illegal to demonstrate near “critical infrastructure” such as gas and oil pipelines. In Florida, it’s now a third-degree felony, punishable up to five years in prison, to deface a monument. In Arkansas, such behavior is considered an “act of terrorism.”

It’s an open question about whether these laws are constitutional or even that prosecutors would be willing to bring cases to court, but that isn’t really the point. As I note in the piece, “The goal of these bills is to make protesters question their decision to demonstrate in the first place. How many Americans would want to risk substantial jail time merely for peacefully participating in a demonstration that the police now have broad discretion to define as a riot?”

The impetus for this legislation is not January 6, but instead, the Black Lives Matter protests from last summer. Republicans appear to be okay with insurrectionists storming the Capitol and putting lawmakers in harm’s way. But deface a monument or block a roadway, and that means war.

Indeed, after several weeks of BLM protesters gathering at Tennessee’s State Capitol building, the GOP-controlled state legislature enacted legislation making it a crime to camp out on state property. Laws that prevent protesters from blocking traffic or broadly define what constitutes a riot seem almost surgically enacted to target BLM activists – and to dissuade them from trying to make their voices heard.

The GOP’s Creeping Authoritarianism

A few months ago, relying on the work of two Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, I wrote about the GOP’s authoritarian trajectory. This chart comes from their book “How Democracies Die,” and it’s what they call the “four key warning signs of authoritarian behavior.”

What is stunning is that , arguably, the answer to every single one of these questions is yes.

Over the last six months, a majority of congressional Republicans have refused to accept the credible results of the 2020 election. The former Republican president endorsed a violent insurrection, and now congressional Republicans are blocking a full investigation of it. Donald Trump has regularly portrayed Democrats as a threat to America’s way of life and accused them of being pawns of the Chinese government. Now Republican-controlled state legislatures are enacting laws restricting the ability of ordinary citizens to protest, criticize their government, and exercise their right to vote.

Now I am the guy who has praised those Republicans who not only refused to go along with Donald Trump’s effort to steal the 2020 election but actively thwarted it. There were many of them, and their adherence to the rule of law is laudable. But, incredible as it may seem, the Republican Party (as currently constructed) is arguably more radical and less wedded to democratic norms than it was when Trump was president. During his four years in office, the vast majority of congressional Republicans were happy to look the other way at Trump’s crimes. Most didn’t want to get their hands dirty. That’s less the case now. Republicans who have challenged Trump or who upheld the rule of law during the 2020 election face tough primary challenges from Trump acolytes. Marginal conspiracy theorists, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, are becoming rising GOP political stars, and, as was the case with Trump, establishment Republicans seem loathe to criticize her for fear of alienating their supporters. In GOP-controlled state legislatures, there has been a feeding frenzy of new voters restrictions, all based on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

Last Fall, I was convinced that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 June 2021 at 6:53 pm

The Republican Party is a clear and present danger to American democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Katie Benner of the New York Times broke the story that former president Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Five emails provided to Congress show Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asking the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, in December, to investigate rumors of voter fraud. One of the fantastical stories Meadows wanted investigated was the story that “people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

The Department of Justice is not the president’s to command. It is supposed to enforce the laws of the United States and administer justice. The office of the president has its own lawyer—the White House counsel—and the president can also have their own personal representation. That Trump tried to use our own Department of Justice to overturn the will of the American voters is eye-popping.

But that was not the only news of the day. We also learned that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, told Trump advisor Steven Bannon on a public show that had he not been able to block a great deal of mail-in voting in 2020, Biden would have won Texas.

We also learned that Oregon Representative Mike Nearman, who was already in trouble for opening the doors of the Oregon Capitol to anti–coronavirus restriction rioters on December 21, held a meeting beforehand, on December 16, to plot the event. An attendee filmed the talk, which set up “Operation Hall Pass.” That operation ultimately opened the Oregon capitol building to far-right rioters, who endangered the entire legislature. The video, which shows Nearman winking and nodding at setting up the invasion, has raised questions about whether other Republicans worked with insurrectionists in other settings.

It is an odd day for these stories to come to light. 

Seventy-seven years ago today, on June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing to send Allied troops, who fought for democracy, across the English Channel to France. There, he hoped, they would push the German troops, who fought for an authoritarian fascist state, back across Europe, securing a victory for democracy over authoritarianism. 

More than 5,000 ships waited to transport more than 150,000 soldiers to France before daybreak the following morning. The fighting to take Normandy would not be easy. The beaches the men would assault were tangled in barbed wire, booby trapped, and defended by German soldiers in concrete bunkers.

On the afternoon of June 5, as the Allied soldiers, their faces darkened with soot and cocoa, milled around waiting to board the ships, Eisenhower went to see the men he was almost certainly sending to their deaths. He joked with the troops, as apparently upbeat as his orders to them had been when he told them Operation Overlord had launched. “The tide has turned!” his letter read. “The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”

But after cheering his men on, he went back to his headquarters and wrote another letter. Designed to blame himself alone if Operation Overlord failed, it read:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The letter was, of course, never delivered. Operation Overlord was a success, launching the final assault in which western democracy, defended by ordinary men and women, would destroy European fascism.

U.S. Army photograph, 1944, Library of Congress

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2021 at 8:07 pm

Amazon Prime Is an Economy-Distorting Lie

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Last week, the Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed an antitrust suit against Amazon. The point of the suit is simple, but not stated explicitly – to unravel Amazon Prime, which at this point has at least 126 million members, roughly the same number of households in America (128.5 million).

I’ve read a bunch of the coverage, but no one has hit that point yet. So that’s what I’m going to write about today.

“Happily and Deeply Intertwined”

It’s a fascinating moment in the political fight over big tech. On the one hand, the four dominant tech firms have never been more powerful or profitable. On the other hand, there is increasingly a consensus that our political leaders have to do *something* about their power. As a result, Google and Facebook are facing government litigation, and Apple has been fighting off legislative attempts to reign in app stores. Nothing has yet breached the castle walls of any of these firms, but we’re getting closer all the time.

This week, it was Amazon’s turn. On Wednesday, Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine alleged that Amazon was using its power to manipulate online retail prices. But there is something a bit different about this case than the ones targeting Google and Facebook. As Shira Ovide put it in the New York Times, Racine is making the claim that Amazon isn’t just crushing competitors, but *raising* consumer prices in the process.

It’s a longstanding claim by some of the independent merchants who sell on Amazon’s digital mall that the company punishes them if they list their products for less on their own websites or other shopping sites like Walmart.com. Those sellers are effectively saying that Amazon dictates what happens on shopping sites all over the internet, and in doing so makes products more expensive for all of us.

The reason this case is considered important is because higher consumer prices fit within the orbit of the consensus for antitrust. While there are possible problems with the case, Racine isn’t going outside the orthodoxy of modern antitrust the way enforcers are with the Facebook case. Against Facebook, enforcers are trying to claim that Facebook is engaged in more surveillance than consumers would otherwise prefer, and that this choice is akin to a price hike. That’s true, but it’s a somewhat novel antitrust claim. In this case, Racine is saying Amazon raised consumer prices using monopoly power. This case is not pushing the boundaries of antitrust law, it’s straightforward consumer harm.

That said, I think there’s another important aspect of this case that has gone largely unmentioned, which is that the Amazon Prime program, the keystone that holds Amazon’s dominance over retail together, is effectively being subsidized by the scheme Racine laid out. If you get rid of Amazon’s ability to force sellers to keep their prices high, then Prime, and its promise of free shipping, falls apart, as does much of the Amazon Marketplace business model. Other parts of Prime, such as Amazon’s ventures in Hollywood (like its recently announced purchase of MGM), may also not make sense if Racine wins.

To understand why, we have to start with the idea of free shipping. Free shipping is the God of online retail, so powerful that France actually banned the practice to protect its retail outlets. Free shipping is also the backbone of Prime. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos knew that the number one pain point for online buyers is shipping – one third of shoppers abandon their carts when they see shipping charges. Bezos helped invent Prime for this reason, saying the point of Prime was to use free shipping “to draw a moat around our best customers.” The goal was to get people used to buying from Amazon, knowing they wouldn’t have to worry about shipping charges. Once Amazon had control of a large chunk of online retail customers, it could then begin dictating terms of sellers who needed to reach them.

This became clear as you read Racine’s complaint. One of the most important sentences in the AG’s argument is a quote from Bezos in 2015 where he alludes to this point. In discussing the firm’s logistics service that is the bedrock of its free shipping promise, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), he said, “FBA is so important because it is glue that inextricably links Marketplace and Prime. Thanks to FBA, Marketplace and Prime are no longer two things. Their economics . . . are now happily and deeply intertwined.” Amazon wants people to see Prime, FBA, and Marketplace as one integrated mega-product, what Bezos likes to call ‘a flywheel,’ to disguise the actual monopolization at work. (Indeed, any time you hear the word ‘flywheel’ relating to Amazon, replace it with ‘monopoly’ and the sentence will make sense.)

Why would FBA be the glue here between Prime and Marketplace? Shipping and logistics is extremely expensive, far more than the membership fees charged by Prime; Amazon spent $37.9 billion on shipping costs in 2019, and much more in 2020. No matter how amazing your logistics operation, you can’t just offer free shipping to customers without having someone pay for it. Amazon found its solution in the relationship between Prime and Marketplace. It forced third party sellers to de facto pay for its shipping costs, by charging them commissions that reach as high as 45%, according to Racine, merely to access Amazon customers. That’s nearly half the revenue of a seller going to Amazon! And this high fee isn’t just because fulfillment or selling online is expensive; Walmart charges significantly less for its fulfillment services and access charges to its online market, and eBay’s market access fees are also much lower than Amazon’s.

(A brief word on numbers. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance found a slightly different number for Amazon’s seller charges, 30% for FBA plus 5-10% for seller fees, while agreeing with Racine on significant price hikes from 2014-2020, what is known as ‘recoupment’ in predatory pricing cases. Another firm calculated the amount paid to Amazon at 27% for an average seller in 2019, and found that number had jumped 42% over five years. One reason we don’t know the actual number Amazon charges third party sellers is because Amazon is hiding this data from investors and fighting the SEC to do so.)

How does Amazon force sellers to pay such high fees? Monopolization! The scheme itself is subtle, and requires a bit of explanation. Nearly anyone may list their wares on Amazon, but the ability to actually get your wares in front of customers is dependent on being able to ‘win the Buy Box,’ which is that white box on the right-side that you get to after you search for an item on Amazon. Over 80% of Amazon purchases go through the Buy Box. The Buy Box is the lever Amazon uses to control access to customers. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Amazon has between a half and three quarters of all customers online, so not being able to sell on Amazon is a nonstarter for brands and merchants. As a result, to keep selling on Amazon, merchants are forced to inflate their prices everywhere, with the 35-45% commission baked into the consumer price regardless of whether they are selling through Amazon. When you buy on Walmart, or at some other retail outlet, or even direct from the brand, even if you aren’t paying Amazon directly, the price reflects the high cost of selling on Amazon. As a result, sellers and brands tend to raise their prices across the board so that Amazon users can’t find better deals anywhere else. Prime thus looks like a good deal, but only because sellers are prohibited from offering customers a better one anywhere else.

. . . To most consumers, Prime looks like a lovely convenience offering free shipping, and it’s hard to find better prices elsewhere. But the reason you can’t find better prices isn’t because Amazon sells stuff cheap, but because it forces everyone else to sell stuff at higher prices. All of this is done so Amazon can continue to offer ‘free shipping’ while using access to its hundred million plus Prime members as a cudgel to force third party sellers to pay high fees.

Amazon also uses its bazooka of cash from Prime members paying high consumer prices, laundered through third party sellers, to distort industries across the economy.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2021 at 12:11 pm

‘Centrism’: an insidious bias favoring an unjust status quo

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Rebecca Solnit writes in The Guardian:

The idea that all bias is some deviation from an unbiased center is itself a bias that prevents pundits, journalists, politicians and plenty of others from recognizing some of the most ugly and impactful prejudices and assumptions of our times. I think of this bias, which insists the center is not biased, not afflicted with agendas, prejudices and destructive misperceptions, as status-quo bias. Underlying it is the belief that things are pretty OK now, that the people in charge should be trusted because power confers legitimacy, that those who want sweeping change are too loud or demanding or unreasonable, and that we should just all get along without looking at the skeletons in the closet and the stuff swept under the rug. It’s mostly a prejudice of people for whom the system is working, against those for whom it’s not.

I saw a tweet the other day that said the Secret Service and US Capitol police must have been incompetent or complicit to be blindsided by the 6 January insurrection. The writer didn’t seem to grasp the third option: that the Secret Service was unable to see past the assumptions that middle-aged conservative white men don’t pose a threat to democracy and the rule of law, that elected officials in powerful places weren’t whipping up a riot or worse, that danger meant outsiders and others. A decade ago, when I went to northern Japan for the first anniversary of the Great Tohuko Earthquake and tsunami, I was told that the 100ft-high wave of black water was so inconceivable a sight that some people could not recognize it and the danger it posed. Others assumed this tsunami would be no bigger than those in recent memory and did not flee high enough. A lot of people died of not being able to see the unanticipated.

People fail to recognize things that do not fit into their worldview, which is why those in power have not adequately responded to decades of terrorism by white men – anti-reproductive-rights-driven killings, racial violence in churches, mosques, synagogues and elsewhere, homophobia and transphobia, the pandemic-scale misogynist violence behind a lot of mass shootings, attacks on environmentalists, and white supremacy in the ranks of the police and the military. Finally, this year the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, called this terrorism by its true name and identified it as “the most dangerous threat to our democracy”. The constant assumption has been that crime and trouble comes from outsiders, from “them”, not “us”, which is why last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were constantly portrayed by conservatives and sometimes the mainstream as far more violent and destructive than they were and the right has had such an easy time demonizing immigrants.

What violence and destruction did take place in or adjacent to Black Lives Matter protests was often the work of the right wing. That includes the murder of a guard at a federal court in Oakland, allegedly by an air force sergeant and Boogaloo Boy, while a BLM protest was going on nearby. It also reportedly includes some of the arson in Minneapolis shortly after George Floyd’s murder, as well as attacks on protesters. USA Today reported 104 such attacks by cars driven into crowds, many of them apparently politically motivated.

No one has ever loved the status quo more than the editorial board at the New York Times, which recently composed an editorial declaring it a misstep for “the city’s Pride organizers … to reduce the presence of law enforcement at the celebration, including a ban on uniformed police and corrections officers marching as groups until at least 2025”. They found a lesbian of color who is also a cop and focused on this individual feeling “devastated”, rather than the logic behind the decision. Pride celebrates the uprising against longtime police violence and criminalization of queerness at the Stonewall Bar in 1969.

Police officers are in no way banned from participating out of uniform, if they so desire, but that’s not enough for these “can’t we all get along” editorialists, who also wrote: “But barring LGBTQ officers from marching is a politicized response and is hardly worthy of the important pursuit of justice for those persecuted by the police.” You want to shout that the whole parade is political, because persecution and inequality have made being LGBTQ political, and the decision to include the police would be no less political than to exclude them. And who decides what’s worthy? The idea that there is some magically apolitical state all should aspire to is key to this bias and to why it refuses to recognize itself as a bias. It believes it speaks from neutral ground, which is why it forever describes a landscape of mountains and chasms as a level playing field.

The status-quo bias is something I’ve encountered over and over again as gender violence, particularly as the refusal or inability to recognize that a high-status man or boy, be he film mogul or high-school football player, can also be a vicious criminal. Those who cannot believe the charges, no matter how credible, often dismiss and blame the victim instead (or worse: reporting a rape too often leads to death threats and other forms of harassment and intimidation intended to make an uncomfortable truth go away). Society has a marked failure of imagination when it comes to grasping that such predators treat their low-status victims in secret differently than their high-status peers in public, and that failure of imagination denies the existence of such inequality even as it perpetrates it.

It’s a failure born out of undue respect for the powerful. (Here I think of all the idiots who kept discovering “the moment Trump became presidential” over and over again, unable to comprehend that his incompetence was as indelible as his corruption and malice, perhaps because their respect for the institution inexorably extended to the grifter who barged into it.) Centrist bias is institutional bias, and all our institutions historically perpetrated inequality. To recognize this is to delegitimize them; to deny it is to have it both ways – think yourself on the side of goodness while insisting no sweeping change is overdue. A far-right person might celebrate and perpetrate racism or police brutality or rape culture; a moderate might just play down its impact, past or present.

To recognize the pervasiveness of sexual abuse is to have to listen to children as well as adults, women as well as men, subordinates as well as bosses: it’s to upend the old hierarchies of who should be heard and trusted, to break the silences that protect the legitimacy of the status quo. More than 95,000 people filed claims in the sexual-abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America, and what it took to keep all those children quiet while all those hundreds of thousands of assaults took place is a lot of unwillingness to listen and to shatter faith in an institution that was itself so much part of the status quo (and in many ways an indoctrination system for it).

Centrists in the antebellum era were apathetic or outright resistant to ending slavery in the US and then in the decades before 1920 to giving women the vote. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 May 2021 at 9:25 am

Heather Cox Richardson discusses police reform, Trump grand jury, election audit, and more

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

A year ago today, 46-year-old George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis as then–police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. As bystanders begged Chauvin to get up, a teenage girl walking by had the presence of mind to video what was happening. Thanks to that girl, Darnella Frazier, we all could hear Floyd telling Chauvin, “I can’t breathe.”

Floyd’s murder sparked more than 4700 protests across the nation that popularized both the idea that policing must be reformed and the concept that American systems, starting with law enforcement and moving to include housing, healthcare, education, and so on, are racially biased. In the past fourteen months, support for the Black Lives Matter movement among white people has jumped 5%, fueled mostly by younger people.

And yet, the rate of deaths at the hands of law enforcement officials has not changed, and Black people are three times more likely than white people to die at the hands of law enforcement even though they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed.

In April, a jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He will be sentenced in June.

After the jury convicted Chauvin, President Joe Biden promised Floyd’s family that he would deliver a police reform bill. Today he and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Floyd’s family privately in the Oval Office for more than an hour, but the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has not become law. The act bars the use of chokeholds and makes it easier to prosecute police officers, but lawmakers have been unable to compromise over so-called “qualified immunity,” a federal doctrine established in 1967 by the Supreme Court that protects officials—including law enforcement officers—from personal liability for much of their behavior while they execute their professional duties. Members of both parties, though, say a deal on the measure is in sight.

Today we learned that the Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., has recently called together a special grand jury to hear a number of cases, including whether to indict former President Trump, other people in charge of running his company, or the Trump Organization itself. That a grand jury is considering whether a former president committed a crime is unprecedented.

It also suggests that Vance believes there is evidence of a crime. There appears to be a focus on whether the Trump Organization manipulated the value of real estate to make it seem more valuable when trying to get loans against it, and less valuable when listing it for tax valuations. Investigators are also looking at compensation for Trump Organization executives.

Vance began to investigate in 2018 after Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to making hush-money payments for Trump and to lying to Congress.

The former president also responded today to a lawsuit filed by Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who in March filed a lawsuit against Trump; Donald Trump, Jr.; Alabama Representative Mo Brooks; and Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani for inciting the insurrection of January 6. Trump’s lawyers asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the president has “absolute immunity conveyed on the President by the Constitution as a key principle of separation of powers.” The memo is the usual political attack we have come to expect from Trump, but it’s interesting: his claim that he enjoys absolute immunity leaves the rest of the defendants out in the cold.

On January 22, just two days after President Biden took office, Lincoln Project founder George Conway published a piece in the Washington Post noting that Trump’s frantic efforts to stay in office might well have been “a desperate fear of criminal indictment.” Trump needed the protection of the presidency to avoid the fallout from his connections with Russia; the Ukraine scandal; and bank, insurance, and tax fraud. Conway noted that refusing to prosecute ex-presidents would undermine the rule of law because it would place them above the law: they could do whatever they wished as president—including trying to overthrow our democracy—knowing they would never answer for it.

Trump, of course, has refused to admit he lost the 2020 election. Today, he issued a statement suggesting that all potential prosecution of him would be political, saying that he was “far in the lead for the Republican Presidential Primary and the General Election in 2024.”

Trump’s memo also suggested he had a First Amendment right to say whatever he wished about the 2020 election, but in January, criminal law professor Joseph Kennedy of the University of North Carolina School of Law pointed out that while Trump’s speech might have been protected, he had a legal duty to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, a duty that meant he should have immediately told his supporters to stop what they were doing on January 6. His supporters breached the Capitol shortly after 2:00 p.m., and he did not ask them to leave until 4:17, in a video that was itself incendiary.

Meanwhile, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2021 at 6:34 pm

Boom in ships that fly ‘fake’ flags and trash the environment

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Quirin Schiermeier reports in Nature:

Ships transport 90% of the world’s traded cargo, so are crucial to the global economy. But when tankers and other large vessels are demolished, they generate huge amounts of marine pollution, particularly if it happens in countries where environmental regulations for ship-breaking yards are lax.

Research now shows1 that the number of vessels misleadingly registered to nations other than their true country of origin — called flags of convenience — has skyrocketed since 2002. The practice allows ship owners from nations with strict environmental regulations to have their vessels dismantled cheaply — but often in a way that is very damaging to the environment.

Business owners in wealthy nations, including members of the European Union as well as the United States, South Korea and Japan, control the large majority of the world cargo and tanker fleet. But an analysis of scrapping records from commercial maritime data providers reveals that between 2014 and 2018, 80% of these ships were demolished in just 3 nations, where shipyards are governed by weak environmental, labour and safety regulations — Bangladesh, India and Pakistan (see ‘Playing the system’ above).

Poor environmental regulation

The study reveals that the use of flags of convenience has become the default among business owners in the EU over the past few decades. Strict EU regulations require all ships registered in EU countries to be recycled at yards approved by the European Commission, but when ships are flagged outside the EU, their owners can evade regulations.

Countries are responsible for enforcing international and regional safety and environmental rules on ships registered under their flags — but some flag-of-convenience nations are known not to do so. Between 2002 and 2019, the proportion of EU-nation-owned ships registered in low-income countries rose from 46% to 96%, the study finds.

By registering ships abroad, owners can also escape taxes and operate substandard vessels. Between 2002 and 2019, the top flags of convenience shifted from Panama and Liberia to two small island countries, Comoros and Palau, which will issue flags for a fee, without proper regulations.

Failure of maritime rules

International treaties — including the 1992 Basel Convention to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries, and the 2009 Hong Kong Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships — are woefully ineffective with regard to preventing environmental injustice, says study author Zheng Wan, a transport researcher at Shanghai Maritime University in China who led the analysis.

Ship-scrapping in low-income countries comes with fatal . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2021 at 3:44 pm

Cold Justice: The Outrage and Promise of Untested DNA From Rape Victims

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A recent post of an archive of DNA samples of rape victims — IMO a fascinating report — turns out to be one part of a three-part series. All three parts are worth reading; they are detailed and disturbing but offer some hope. The three parts appear in ProPublica, which describes them thusly:

Starting in the 1970s, a Baltimore doctor quietly preserved DNA evidence from rape victims, believing science would eventually catch up. Much of it would sit for decades, ignored and unused, until a trailblazing detective and her cold-case team uncovered its secrets.

“Who Is This Monster?”

She went undercover to catch a rapist. Two decades later, she finally got her chance.
by Catherine Rentz; Illustrations by Isabel Seliger, special to ProPublica May 20, 5 a.m. EDT

“You Save as Long as You Have To”

Distressed by authorities’ poor treatment of rape victims and destruction of evidence, one doctor became a DNA archivist long before we had the technology to test it. For potentially hundreds of survivors, his faith in science is paying off.”
by Catherine Rentz; Illustrations by Isabel Seliger, special to ProPublica May 22, 5 a.m. EDT

“This Is How You Get Your Power Back”

Police had long since destroyed the evidence from their cases. Decades later, a group of women got a second chance at justice.
By Catherine Rentz; Illustrations by Isabel Seliger, special to ProPublica May 25, 5 a.m. EDT

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2021 at 2:17 pm

Belarus tests international authoritarianism

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

On Sunday, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus forced a commercial airliner, operated by Ryanair, flying from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, out of the sky as it passed through the airspace over Belarus. A MiG-29 fighter jet diverted the plane to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, after ground support warned its pilots (falsely) there was a bomb on board.

There wasn’t a bomb on the plane; there was an opposition journalist, 26-year-old Roman Protasevich (also spelled Raman Pratasevich), who was traveling with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who is a law student and a Russian citizen. Once the plane was on the ground, security forces took the two of them away. Pratasevich told another passenger: “I am facing the death penalty.” Three other passengers also stayed in Minsk; Lithuanian authorities are trying to figure out who they were.

Lukashenko, who has been called “Europe’s Last Dictator,” has been president of Belarus since 1994 and claimed to be reelected on August 9, 2020, with 80% of the vote, although before the election the president’s security forces threw journalists, political opponents, activists, and human rights defenders in jail. After the election, security forces arrested almost 7000 people in four days, denying many food and water and torturing hundreds of them. By mid-November, the number arrested had climbed to more than 25,000 people.

The European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom did not recognize Lukashenko’s claim of an election victory. They called for an end to the political prosecutions and a new election.

In Belarus, which has a population of about 9.5 million, hundreds of thousands of protesters were more direct. They took to the streets, calling for new elections and Lukashenko’s resignation. Protasevich was not in the country. He had begun protesting Lukashenko as a teenager; he was arrested and beaten in 2012 when he was 17 for running opposition groups on social media. He fled Belarus in 2019 and, from exile, was one of the journalists who operated a communications channel to provide information about the democratic movement during the demonstrations. The government declared him a “terrorist” in absentia. Terrorism carries the death penalty in Belarus.

To capture Protasevich, Lukashenko has committed an act of state-sponsored piracy against two European Union countries, a European-registered airline, and passengers who are mostly European Union citizens. This is an astonishing move that likely has something to do with Lukashenko’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian officials praised the hijacking, calling it a “brilliant special operation.”

Russia and Belarus loosely agreed to form a unified state in 1996 and made the agreement tighter in 1999, but Lukashenko has not been eager to give up control of his country. As his grip on his people has weakened, though, Lukashenko has turned to Russia, which gave Belarus a loan of $1 billion in December 2020. Lukasheko and Putin are scheduled to meet this week.

Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic, an authoritative scholar of authoritarianism, notes that autocrats are watching to see how the West reacts, since they, too, would like to be able to control their dissident communities in exile, showing them: “You are not safe. You are never safe. Not even if you live in a democracy; not even if you have political asylum; not even if you are sitting on a commercial plane, thousands of feet above the ground.”

Immediately after the hijacking, Western leaders, including the secretary-general of NATO, the president of the European Commission, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken,  . . .

Continue reading.

And at the end, she notes emergence of the authoritarian mentality in the US:

In separate news, we also learned that a security unit in the Commerce Department turned into a rogue counterintelligence operation over the past few years, collecting information on hundreds of people suspected of talking critically about the 2020 U.S. census or of having ties to China. John Costello, who was a deputy assistant secretary of intelligence and security in the department during the Trump administration, told Washington Post reporter Shawn Boburg that the office “has been allowed to operate far outside the bounds of federal law enforcement norms and has created an environment of paranoia and retaliation.” The unit seems to have become a tool to target employees of Chinese descent.

When they took over, Biden officials ordered the unit to stop all activities until further review.

A new Gallup poll today finds that 53% of Republicans think that Trump won the 2020 election. But only 26% of Americans identify as Republicans. Journalist Richard Hine crunched the numbers and notes that those percentages boil down to about 14% of Americans who think Trump is still president. They are a minority, but they believe the former president, who continues to insist that he won the 2020 election despite all evidence to the contrary.

Read the whole thing. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2021 at 12:57 pm

The Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Hackers Had a Secret Weapon: Self-Promoting Cybersecurity Firms

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ProPublica has a very interesting report by by Renee Dudley and Daniel Golden that begins:

On Jan. 11, antivirus company Bitdefender said it was “happy to announce” a startling breakthrough. It had found a flaw in the ransomware that a gang known as DarkSide was using to freeze computer networks of dozens of businesses in the U.S. and Europe. Companies facing demands from DarkSide could download a free tool from Bitdefender and avoid paying millions of dollars in ransom to the hackers.

But Bitdefender wasn’t the first to identify this flaw. Two other researchers, Fabian Wosar and Michael Gillespie, had noticed it the month before and had begun discreetly looking for victims to help. By publicizing its tool, Bitdefender alerted DarkSide to the lapse, which involved reusing the same digital keys to lock and unlock multiple victims. The next day, DarkSide declared that it had repaired the problem, and that “new companies have nothing to hope for.”

“Special thanks to BitDefender for helping fix our issues,” DarkSide said. “This will make us even better.”

DarkSide soon proved it wasn’t bluffing, unleashing a string of attacks. This month, it paralyzed the Colonial Pipeline Co., prompting a shutdown of the 5,500 mile pipeline that carries 45% of the fuel used on the East Coast, quickly followed by a rise in gasoline prices, panic buying of gas across the Southeast and closures of thousands of gas stations. Absent Bitdefender’s announcement, it’s possible that the crisis might have been contained, and that Colonial might have quietly restored its system with Wosar and Gillespie’s decryption tool.

Instead, Colonial paid DarkSide $4.4 million in Bitcoin for a key to unlock its files. “I will admit that I wasn’t comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this,” CEO Joseph Blount told The Wall Street Journal.

The missed opportunity was part of a broader pattern of botched or half-hearted responses to the growing menace of ransomware, which during the pandemic has disabled businesses, schools, hospitals, and government agencies across the country. The incident also shows how antivirus companies eager to make a name for themselves sometimes violate one of the cardinal rules of the cat-and-mouse game of cyber-warfare: Don’t let your opponents know what you’ve figured out. During World War II, when the British secret service learned from decrypted communications that the Gestapo was planning to abduct and murder a valuable double agent, Johnny Jebsen, his handler wasn’t allowed to warn him for fear of cluing in the enemy that its cipher had been cracked. Today, ransomware hunters like Wosar and Gillespie try to prolong the attackers’ ignorance, even at the cost of contacting fewer victims. Sooner or later, as payments drop off, the cybercriminals realize that something has gone wrong.

Whether to tout a decryption tool is a “calculated decision,” said Rob McLeod, senior director of the threat response unit for cybersecurity firm eSentire. From the marketing perspective, “You are singing that song from the rooftops about how you have come up with a security solution that will decrypt a victim’s data. And then the security researcher angle says, ‘Don’t disclose any information here. Keep the ransomware bugs that we’ve found that allow us to decode the data secret, so as not to notify the threat actors.’”

Wosar said that publicly releasing tools, as Bitdefender did, has become riskier as ransoms have soared and the gangs have grown wealthier and more technically adept. In the early days of ransomware, when hackers froze home computers for a few hundred dollars, they often couldn’t determine how their code was broken unless the flaw was specifically pointed out to them.

Today, the creators of ransomware “have access to reverse engineers and penetration testers who are very very capable,” he said. “That’s how they gain entrance to these oftentimes highly secured networks in the first place. They download the decryptor, they disassemble it, they reverse engineer it and they figure out exactly why we were able to decrypt their files. And 24 hours later, the whole thing is fixed. Bitdefender should have known better.”

It wasn’t the first time that Bitdefender trumpeted a solution that Wosar or Gillespie had beaten it to. Gillespie had broken the code of a ransomware strain called GoGoogle and was helping victims without any fanfare, when Bitdefender released a decryption tool in May 2020. Other companies have also announced breakthroughs publicly, Wosar and Gillespie said.

“People are desperate for a news mention, and big security companies don’t care about victims,” Wosar said.

Bogdan Botezatu, director of threat research at Bucharest, Romania-based Bitdefender, said the company wasn’t aware of the earlier success in unlocking files infected by DarkSide. Regardless, he said, Bitdefender decided to publish its tool “because most victims who fall for ransomware do not have the right connection with ransomware support groups and won’t know where to ask for help unless they can learn about the existence of tools from media reports or with a simple search.”

Bitdefender has provided free technical support to more than a dozen DarkSide victims, and “we believe many others have successfully used the tool without our intervention,” Botezatu said. Over the years, Bitdefender has helped individuals and businesses avoid paying more than $100 million in ransom, he said.

Bitdefender recognized that DarkSide might correct the flaw, Botezatu said. “We are well aware that attackers are agile and adapt to our decryptors.” But DarkSide might have “spotted the issue” anyway. “We don’t believe in ransomware decryptors made silently available. Attackers will learn about their existence by impersonating home users or companies in need, while the vast majority of victims will have no idea that they can get their data back for free.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and more about what is being done to protect data systems.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 3:24 pm

When an algorithm taps you on the shoulder

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Matt Stroud reports in the Verge:

ROBERT MCDANIEL’S TROUBLES began with a knock on the door. It was a weekday in mid-2013, as he made lunch in the crowded three-bedroom house where he lives with his grandmother and several of his adult siblings.

When he went to answer the door, McDaniel discovered not one person, but a cohort of visitors: two police officers in uniform, a neighbor working with the police, and a muscular guy in shorts and a T-shirt sporting short, graying hair.

Police officers weren’t a new sight for McDaniel. They often drove down his tree-lined street in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago making stops and arrests. Out of the 775 homicides tracked by the Chicago Sun-Times in 2020, 72 of them happened in Austin. That’s almost 10 percent of the city’s murder rate, in a region that takes up just 3 percent of its total area. The City of Chicago puts out a “heat map” of where gun crimes occur, with areas of moderate shooting numbers shaded in blue or green. Red splotches represent large numbers — and hottest concentrations — of shootings. On the map, Austin is the color of a fire engine.

Still, this visit from authorities caught McDaniel off guard: at that point in time, he had nothing remotely violent on his criminal record — just arrests for marijuana-related offenses and street gambling. And despite two officers showing up at his front door with the cohort, neither of them, nor anyone else in the cohort, accused McDaniel of breaking the law. They were not there to arrest him. No one was there to investigate a crime. They just wanted to talk.

“I had no idea why these cops were here,” McDaniel says, recounting it to me years later. “I didn’t do shit to bring them here.”

He invited them into this home. And when he did, they told McDaniel something he could hardly believe: an algorithm built by the Chicago Police Department predicted — based on his proximity to and relationships with known shooters and shooting casualties — that McDaniel would be involved in a shooting. That he would be a “party to violence,” but it wasn’t clear what side of the barrel he might be on. He could be the shooter, he might get shot. They didn’t know. But the data said he was at risk either way.

McDaniel was both a potential victim and a potential perpetrator, and the visitors on his porch treated him as such. A social worker told him that he could help him if he was interested in finding assistance to secure a job, for example, or mental health services. And police were there, too, with a warning: from here on out, the Chicago Police Department would be watching him. The algorithm indicated Robert McDaniel was more likely than 99.9 percent of Chicago’s population to either be shot or to have a shooting connected to him. That made him dangerous, and top brass at the Chicago PD knew it. So McDaniel had better be on his best behavior.

The idea that a series of calculations could predict that he would soon shoot someone, or be shot, seemed outlandish. At the time, McDaniel didn’t know how to take the news.

But the visit set a series of gears in motion. This Kafka-esque policing nightmare — a circumstance in which police identified a man to be surveilled based on a purely theoretical danger — would seem to cause the thing it predicted, in a deranged feat of self-fulfilling prophecy. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and story gets even more interesting. The “help” offered causes the problem it was intended to prevent.

Later in the article, Stroud points out one weakness built into the system:

Forecasting isn’t magic; it’s an educated guess about what might happen based on things that have already occurred. The data feeding forecasting software for police are typically built around police stops and arrests. That might sound straightforward and unbiased, but consider that US Department of Justice data show that African Americans are more than twice as likely to be arrested than white people. And if you’re Black, your likelihood of being stopped by a police officer can be nearly four times higher than if you’re white, depending on which city you live in, according to the Stanford Open Policing Project.

Building a forecasting model around data like these can run the risk of stigmatizing entire populations based on discriminatory data; a 2017 study from the Journal of Statistics and Public Policy found that arrests doubled in a quadrant of Los Angeles where its police department tested forecasting software. Another problem — exacerbated when forecasting programs do not disclose their sources of data — is that of “dirty data” being mixed with more straightforward crime reports: a 2019 study out of New York University’s AI Now Institute identified jurisdictions where inaccurate or falsified records were directly fed into the data. Chicago’s one of them.

Which is all to say that forecasting can put entire populations at risk of over-policing — which has led to countless unnecessary police killings for relatively insignificant infractions. (Think George Floyd. And Michael Brown. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Walter Scott. Thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo, this year, in Chicago. Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. The list goes on.)

Later still:

IN MCDANIEL’S VIEW, the heat list caused the harm its creators hoped to avoid: it predicted a shooting that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t predicted the shooting.

As the heat list continued to operate, researchers tore it to shreds. A 2016 paper published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology came to some troubling conclusions about the list that had, by then, been rebranded as the “Strategic Subject List,” or SSL. Among them: “The individuals on the SSL were considered to be ‘persons of interest’ to the CPD,” meaning that McDaniel’s description of being routinely targeted for surveillance and searches matched what researchers discovered. “Overall,” the report goes on, “there was no practical direction about what to do with individuals on the SSL, little executive or administrative attention paid to the pilot, and little to no follow-up with district commanders.”

The heat list wasn’t particularly predictive, it turned out. It wasn’t high-tech. Cops would just use the list as a way to target people.

There was another problem, too. . .

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 1:41 pm

“You Save as Long as You Have To” — Rape kits and DNA

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Catherine Rentz reports in ProPublica:

Almost 50 years ago, a woman showed up in the emergency room of a hospital in Maryland. She said she had been raped. A doctor examined her and wrote a report. Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker can recite the words of the report from memory nearly half a century later: “I examined this woman. She said she was raped. She was.”

Breitenecker, a forensic pathologist, worked at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, a hospital just outside the Baltimore city limits, and as an expert in courtrooms across the country.

“Worthless,” he remembered thinking when he reviewed the report from another hospital.

Breitenecker had come to America from Austria after World War II, haunted by the wholesale rapes carried out by Russian soldiers as they swept victoriously through Europe.

“Lawless,” he recalled.

And so what he encountered in Baltimore deeply distressed him. Rape victims sat in emergency rooms for up to 10 hours before being treated and examined. When they did get to see a doctor, the exam was rudimentary. There were no standardized rape kits. And no law required that evidence left by the perpetrators be preserved, so it was often destroyed within months by police or hospitals for no better reason than to save space.

“Women were considered more nuisance than victims,” Breitenecker said. “Nothing of value was done.”

Breitenecker decided that would not stand.

He opened the Rape Care Center within the hospital, a unit dedicated to doing better for the traumatized women who wound up there. He trained physicians on how to conduct respectful but meticulous exams and how to preserve the evidence of a possible crime.

Women would be seen within an hour of their arrival. A physician trained by Breitenecker would swab the vagina, vulva, cervix, legs and wherever else there could be physical traces of the attacker. They documented any injuries and took fingernail scrapings. They combed for pubic hair and pulled blood and urine. They put a small amount of saline water inside the vaginal canal to collect the washings into test tubes.

The swabs and tubes were transported to a hospital laboratory where Breitenecker — “Dr. B,” as he was known among colleagues — smeared the contents from the swabs onto thin glass slides, then slid the evidence under a microscope, which he used to check for spermatozoa.

Breitenecker also extracted fluid from the test tube to measure the level of acid phosphatase, which would confirm the existence and approximate timing of the semen release. He then typed the summary and conclusions in a report that would go to the Baltimore County police if they were investigating the case. If the acid phosphatase was markedly elevated, he would write “recent intercourse.” He checked for any sexually transmitted diseases, did a pregnancy test, and recommended medical treatment for the victim.

Looking back, what he did next was effectively create one of the first DNA databases in the country, makeshift as it was.

Breitenecker stuck tiny labels on each of the tubes and slides that included the last two digits of the year, last name of the patient, the pathology department case ID and the number of the slide or tube, added another sticker that said “Greater Baltimore Medical Center,” and recorded every case in a logbook.

He opened a deep freezer and placed the tubes from the vaginal washings inside for preservation. He then opened a room-temperature cabinet, where he placed the microscopic glass slides, also for long-term storage.

“It could be useful one day,” he said of his evidence collection, which grew to include thousands of samples from more than 2,200 cases. “You save as long as you have to.”

The stash of physical evidence from rape cases became an open secret among the local authorities, but it was underused and overlooked, even outright ignored. When Breitenecker retired in 1997, leaving perhaps his life’s most significant work behind at the hospital, relatively few of the thousands of specimens he’d kept had been put to use.

In 2004, Rose Brady, the first woman ever to serve as the head of the Baltimore County Police Department’s special victims unit, heard about Breitenecker’s trove of microscopic slides. Over the next 10 years, with a small but dedicated team of detectives, she obtained subpoenas for 158 sexual assault kits and scoured the police property room for any remaining forensic evidence from cold cases. Police then developed 101 DNA profiles, generating 84 hits in the FBI’s DNA database.

Serial rapists might have thought they had gotten away with their crimes, assaults committed from 1978 to 2004. Then Brady’s team showed up and put them in handcuffs. They made 62 arrests and got 49 convictions, according to arrest records and court files obtained by ProPublica. Several men were arrested multiple times for different cases.

Survivors finally got justice. Prosecutors celebrated clearing career criminals from the streets. Police from across the country called Baltimore County asking how they did it. They knew evidence from around that time that had been put in police storage rooms is typically long gone.

Brady would ask them: “Do you have a Dr. Breitenecker?” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 12:31 pm

Recalling the Tulsa race massacre, and calling for reparations

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Brett Milano writes in the Harvard Gazette:

The upcoming centennial of the Tulsa race massacre brings a grim reminder of America’s troubled history with African Americans with a particular resonance, given the current national reckoning sparked by the unjust police killing of George Floyd and other people of color. In a virtual event this week sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, a panel of academics and human rights activists discussed the past and focused on the work that remains.

On May 31, 1921, armed white mobs began a deadly assault on Tulsa’s affluent Greenwood district, popularly known as the Black Wall Street. It was sparked by an accusation that a young Black man named Dick Rowland had threatened or possibly assaulted a white woman on an elevator. Charges against Rowland would eventually be dropped. But the rumor was enough that rioting whites descended on the Black district, killing as many as 300 African Americans, injuring hundreds, leaving thousands homeless, and burning hundreds of businesses, homes, churches, schools, and other buildings to the ground.

In the wake of the massacre, the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan continued to flourish; police and many other records of the event vanished; and no public memorials or commemorative events occurred in Tulsa for decades.

The anniversary held special personal meaning for Wednesday’s first speaker, Regina Goodwin, an Oklahoma state representative and Black Caucus chair. Born and raised in the Greenwood area, she had a great-grandmother and great-grandfather who survived the massacre. “The history and the lessons of that period are with me every day. You can talk about a new kind of massacre if you will, when it comes to the erasing of a culture and the particular kinds of businesses that once were,” she said, referring to gentrification in and around Greenwood that threatens to rob the district of its historic identity.

Her ancestors, she said, were among the first to call for reparations after the assault, and she said that battle continues in the efforts to pass federal H.R.40 (an act that would establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans). “That’s where we are: We’re at a crossroads in America where racism has been amplified, the same racism that triggered the total devastation of Greenwood,” she said. “We have to grapple today with the question of race. When are we going to stop just hearing the remedies and start enacting good policy?”

Each of the panelists echoed the same sentiment, that our times call for concrete reparations and not just words. Karlos Hill, who chairs the Department of African and African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, underlined that argument by sharing some of his own research — particularly some powerful photos of the Tulsa devastation. “Even for an historian of racial violence, I was shocked when I really learned the depth of the viciousness,” he said. Both the photos and survivors’ testimony, he said, undercut the white supremacist narrative of the Tulsa death and destruction were the result of “Negro insurrection.”

“Once I understood the scope of this I realized it was a community lynching … and we could even look at this as an attempted expulsion of Black people from Tulsa,” Hill said. This made reparations all the more necessary, he said. “If the 100th anniversary is to mean anything, it should mean us mustering the courage for once to do right by America’s victims of white supremacist violence.”

Dreisen Heath, a researcher and advocate in Human Rights Watch’s U.S. program, was even more specific. She said  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2021 at 3:03 pm

How Violent Cops Stay in Law Enforcement

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Abe Streep writes in the New Yorker:

In September, 2009, a card dealer named Evie Oquendo arrived at her apartment, on the far east side of Las Vegas, with groceries for her fifteen-year-old son, Tanner Chamberlain. Tanner, who struggled with bipolar disorder, had stayed home from school that day, and Oquendo wanted to make beef stew, one of his favorite meals. But, before she could start cooking, Tanner became extremely agitated. Not long afterward, she discovered that he had swallowed a handful of her anti-anxiety pills. She wanted to take him to the hospital, but first she called her sister, a former New York City police officer. Her sister told her to call 911. “I said, ‘I’m not calling the police, because I’m afraid they’re gonna shoot him,’ ” Oquendo recalled. “She told me, ‘Evie, don’t be ridiculous. They’ll know how to handle it.’ ”

Tanner calmed down enough to suggest going to a nearby 7-Eleven for an iced tea, and Oquendo decided against calling the police. But her sister had already asked a family friend in Nevada to call 911, and soon officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department pulled up to Oquendo’s apartment building, a stucco complex with a pool and a playground. Among the group was a twenty-eight-year-old officer named Derek Colling, who had been with the department for four years. When Colling and the others approached, Tanner stood behind Oquendo, grasping his mother and holding a folding knife in one hand. Officers instructed him to drop the knife and release his mother, but he did not comply. One of the officers on the scene, who was trained in de-escalating crisis situations involving people with mental illnesses, tried to speak to Tanner. Colling trained his gun on Tanner. “Don’t shoot him!” Oquendo pleaded. Colling shot him in the head.

This was Colling’s second fatal shooting in three years: in 2006, he had been one of five officers to shoot and kill a man who pulled a gun at a gas station. In both cases, a coroner’s inquest declared the killings justified. “I did what had to be done,” Colling said, during the second inquiry. One of Colling’s childhood friends, Jedadiah Schultz, recalled meeting up with Colling shortly after Tanner’s death, at a baseball game, and asking him about the incident. “The way in which he was telling the story was like his heroic journey,” Schultz said. “I was deeply unsettled.” (Colling did not respond to requests for comment.)

In 2011, after Colling beat a videographer who was filming police activity in a suburban neighborhood, the footage went viral, and the department launched an investigation. In December, just weeks after the Las Vegas Review-Journal began publishing a series of articles on the use of lethal force by police, Colling was fired for policy violations. The city’s police department, which had a long-standing reputation as one of the most violent in the country, announced that it would be undertaking extensive reforms, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, to improve transparency and accountability.

No criminal charges were brought against Colling, and the internal investigation that led to the department’s decision was not made public. Still, Oquendo felt some sense of vindication: Colling wasn’t going to jail, but at least he’d lost his badge and his gun. She decided to pursue a civil case against Colling and the department, including a wrongful-death claim, and, in 2013, two years after she’d filed it, a federal district-court judge allowed the case to go forward.

But, in 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit, citing qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects law-enforcement officers from civil lawsuits. Shortly afterward, while Oquendo was searching for news stories about Colling on the Internet, she got a hit from a paper in Laramie, Wyoming. Colling hadn’t left law enforcement—he’d just moved home. He was working as a patrol deputy for the Albany County sheriff’s office, which covers a forty-three-hundred-square-mile region of southeastern Wyoming, including Laramie, Colling’s home town. Oquendo was distraught. She started calling journalists and community leaders in Laramie. “I didn’t want him to kill again,” she said.

Eventually, she reached Debra Hinkel. An athletic woman with white-blond hair and a direct manner, Hinkel had lived in Laramie most of her life. She ran a few businesses in town, including the Ranger, a motel, bar, and liquor store, which her parents had owned. She was well-connected, and she had contacts at all three of the law-enforcement agencies with jurisdiction in Laramie—the police department, the sheriff’s office, and the University of Wyoming’s police department. Her middle child, Robbie Ramirez, had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in his early twenties, and, in the years since, Hinkel had come to dedicate much of her time to mental-health advocacy. Oquendo had found Hinkel’s phone number through the Laramie chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, where Hinkel served as president. After explaining her story, Oquendo urged Hinkel to use her standing in the community to agitate for Colling’s dismissal. “She was trying to get ahold of anybody she could,” Hinkel said. “She told me, ‘The guy’s dangerous.’ ”

Hinkel knew Derek Colling. His father was a highway patrolman, and his mother worked at a local school. Laramie is a college town of about thirty thousand that feels smaller. As boys, Colling and Robbie had played on the same baseball team, the Vigilantes. They had attended high school together; as members of the school choir, they travelled to Carnegie Hall. After graduating, Colling attended college in South Dakota, then explored a career in law enforcement. He got the job in Las Vegas in 2005. Robbie, meanwhile, had never left Wyoming.

Hinkel and Robbie lived a few blocks apart—she in a ranch house, he in a log-walled apartment owned by two of Hinkel’s brothers. They had a close-knit family, with relatives spread throughout the region. Robbie’s siblings, Randy and Robyn, lived about an hour away; their father, Jimmy Ramirez, lived in a small town across the Snowy Range mountains. Some months, Hinkel saw Robbie regularly. When he felt good, he coached hockey, made ceramic art, and worked at the Ranger. At other times, when he was feeling anxious or depressed, he kept to himself. A fun-loving skater in his younger days, Robbie had become exceedingly careful over the years, and police especially concerned him. After his diagnosis, he had been arrested a few times, and he wanted to avoid any similar encounters. He kept a detailed budget, and family members remember him painstakingly tracking his medications and meal plan. He spent hours tinkering with his Ford Ranger, but he was a tentative driver who rarely left Laramie. He said he needed to stay near home, where he was safe.

Hinkel decided not to tell her son about Colling, but he found out anyway. Not long after Oquendo’s call, Robbie walked into the Ranger and found his mother standing by the pool table. The Boomerang, Laramie’s daily, had just published an article about Oquendo’s civil case. Robbie sounded matter-of-fact, Hinkel recalled later, when he told her that he’d read about Colling. “He’ll probably shoot me someday,” Robbie said.

The sheriff of Albany County, David O’Malley, hired Colling in 2012, ten months after he was fired from his job in Las Vegas. Colling had applied to work for the town’s police department, too, but his history disqualified him. “We didn’t even finish his background,” Dale Stalder, the chief of the Laramie Police Department, said. A Laramie law-enforcement veteran told me that, when he heard that Colling was working for O’Malley, he was unsurprised. “The sheriff’s office is kind of a second-chance oasis for cops,” he said.

O’Malley is widely known for his role investigating the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie, in 1998. O’Malley, who was then the head of investigations at the Laramie Police Department, worked with a detective from the sheriff’s department to build the case that convicted two men of Shepard’s murder. The story garnered international attention, helped to catalyze a reckoning with anti-gay violence, and inspired a play, “The Laramie Project,” that was produced as a touring show. O’Malley became an outspoken public figure, advocating for national hate-crime legislation and speaking openly about his former anti-gay bigotry. He marched at Pride events, attended drag-queen bingo, and spoke out against a book that cast aspersions on Shepard. He left the police department in 2004 and, in 2010, ran for sheriff as a Democrat, winning by nearly twenty points.

The American sheriff—especially the Western sheriff—has always occupied a role that is both functional and performative, and O’Malley seemed intuitively aware of the outward-facing aspects of the job. He wore a bushy mustache and snap shirts, and he projected warmth, relying on folksy lingo. He was widely liked, and he easily won reëlection twice. But among law enforcement his department’s reputation was mixed, marred by a handful of cases of alleged misconduct. Stalder, Laramie’s police chief, told me that the expertise of sheriff’s departments varies widely. “There’s a huge disparity,” he said. “Some are very professional. Some are much less professional.” When I asked where O’Malley’s department fit within that spectrum, he said, “I think I’ll leave that one alone.”

Still, O’Malley’s popularity seemed undimmed, and he appeared confident deflecting scrutiny. A few years after Colling was hired, when local journalists found out about Colling’s history in Las Vegas, O’Malley . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Another way violent cops stay on the force is that other police officers protect them, including lying about events. That is seen repeatedly.

Later in the article:

In recent years, the very idea of problem officers has become a flashpoint in the public discourse on police violence: when politicians and police chiefs blame the failures of policing on a handful of officers, they seem to be ignoring the systemic issues that plague American law enforcement. But it is widely accepted in the field of decertification studies that a small number of officers account for a large number of civilian complaints; if implemented fairly and consistently, decertification can serve as a vital mechanism for removing the worst actors. “Most professions have a way of getting rid of bad professionals,” Roger Goldman, an emeritus professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law, who is an expert on decertification, told me. “So why not police?”

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2021 at 2:30 pm

A united nations of crime’: how Marbella became a magnet for gangsters

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What if you gather all the gangster bosses together in one city? Marbella is finding out.  Nacho Carretero and Arturo Lezcano report in the Guardian:

ne morning last autumn, a dozen or so locals were eating breakfast at a cafe under a clear Marbella sky, in front of the offices of the Special Organised Crime Response Unit (Greco), on the Costa del Sol. The property is nondescript – an unobtrusive building in a working-class neighbourhood – and only someone with a sharp eye for detail might notice the two security cameras monitoring the front entrance. The cafe’s regulars drank coffee and ate toast, unaware that only 24 hours earlier, in another part of the city, Greco agents had rescued a man from a garage, alive, but with holes drilled through his toes. It was the latest local case of amarre, or kidnapping, to settle a score between criminal gangs.

That afternoon, in Puerto Banús, the wealthiest and most extravagant area of the city, a young British man with ties to organised crime walked out of a Louis Vuitton store and found himself surrounded by a crew of young Maghrebis, “soldiers” from one of the Marseille clans. “They didn’t want anything specific,” he said. “They just stared me down and said: ‘What’s up?’ They were looking for trouble. Things like this have been happening for a while now. It’s getting really dangerous here,” he said, with no apparent sense of the irony of a criminal complaining about criminality.

On the same day, in New Andalucía, one of the luxury housing developments on the outskirts of the city, next to the scorched shell of the Sisú Hotel, which was set on fire in what seemed to be a settling of scores, a Rolls-Royce sped through an intersection and smashed into an oncoming car. The driver, a young man in a tracksuit and tattoos, got out and inspected the damage, clutching three mobile phones and glaring defiantly at passersby.

It was in the 60s, during Spain’s economic “miracle” and development boom, that the Costa del Sol was transformed into the tourist hotspot of southern Europe. First, working-class holidaymakers thronged the public beaches. Then an emerging class of jet-setters found their piece of paradise in Marbella. The plan to develop the region succeeded, but success came with its own baggage. “This was the Francoist agreement,” said Antonio Romero, an author and former politician who is one of the most outspoken voices against organised crime in the region. “You, the criminals, come here to relax, don’t commit any crimes, and bring your money.” And so, as the authorities turned a blind eye, Marbella became a premier destination for the global criminal elite.

The Costa del Sol is organised crime’s southern frontier – a stretch of urban sprawl extending from Málaga to Estepona, with Marbella, a city of 147,633 people, as its capital. According to the Spanish Intelligence Centre for Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime, there are at least 113 criminal groups representing 59 different nationalities operating out of the area.

There is nowhere quite like the Costa del Sol – a long tongue of land stretching 55 miles between the mountains and the sea. To the south, less than 10 miles of open water separates the region from Morocco – the world’s largest producer of hashish – and from the autonomous Spanish outposts of Ceuta and Melilla. Less than an hour’s drive away is one of Europe’s main entry points for cocaine, the port of Algeciras. Across the bay from Algeciras is the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, a tax haven separated from Spain by a fence. To the north rise the Málaga and Granada mountains, Europe’s main region for marijuana cultivation.

“The Costa del Sol is a kind of hub, or ‘coworking’ space, where almost every major criminal group in the world has some sort of presence,” a senior National police agent investigating organised crime told us. “It’s a UN of criminals for a globalised world. Marbella is a tourist brand, but it’s also a criminal brand.” Marcos Frías, chief of the Central Organised Crime Brigade, said: “If a crime boss from Liverpool wants to traffic drugs on a large scale, he knows he has to make an appearance in Marbella. He doesn’t have a choice.”

The other side sees it the same way. “There are groups from all over the world here,” said a member of the Camorra, the Naples mafia organisation, who has lived in Marbella for years. “People of all different nationalities, doing all kinds of different jobs. We don’t intermix, but we’re constantly collaborating.”

The mobsters blend in with their millionaire neighbours. Marbella is not so much a rich place as a place full of rich people. A quick search yields 3,974 results for homes listed at more than €1m – that’s 100 more listings than the entire city of Madrid – in a city where the per capita income (€21,818) is less than the Spanish average. The homes of the mafiosi are next to the homes of other millionaires who may have no connections to organised crime. Their cars are parked next to the cars of regular businessmen; their yachts dock in the same marinas, they eat at the same restaurants. “Organised crime, in large part, is invisible,” said Ricardo Álvarez-Ossorio, a lawyer who has represented several members of Costa del Sol’s criminal community. “They’re rich, they live well, they spend money … Organised crime has nourished and sustained Marbella. That and the sheikhs. And everyone has been fine with it.”

In recent years, the situation has deteriorated. Bosses have started bringing their “soldiers” with them, who strut along the streets of Puerto Banús or New Andalucía. “Young gangsters, armed and really dangerous,” said one member of Greco Costa del Sol. And it’s not just the police who are complaining. The Naples mafioso who has lived in Marbella for years feels the same way: “The young guys who are coming here now don’t live by any codes, they don’t have any respect.”

The mafioso, who did not want to give his name (we have called him Francesco), had agreed to meet at a restaurant in Puerto Banús, where he always has a table waiting for him. Drinking cup after cup of coffee, he said this new culture of delinquency is ruining the Costa del Sol: “What’s changed about Marbella is that now the lower criminal class is here. All these guys running around with their little bum bags, while their bosses are in Dubai.”

There is no question that the landscape in Marbella has changed, and that the arrival of this new community of criminals is at the root of the transformation. “Here, you’ll be eating at a nice restaurant, then turn to the table next to you and there’s an Albanian with a star tattoo, then at the other table, there’s a thug from the Irish mafia,” said an agent from Greco. “The other day I was standing in line at the grocery store, and the kid in front of me turned around and he had a Kalashnikov tattooed on his forehead. It didn’t used to be like that here.”


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T
he most immediate sign of this change is a rise in violent clashes between gangs: “The violence is gratuitous. In the past, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2021 at 1:44 pm

Wanting to punish police misconduct does NOT mean one “hates cops”

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No more than wanting to punish (say) American criminals mean that one “hates Americans.” And some cops definitely deserve punishment.

Here are two reports, both in the Washington Post, that provide examples:

Colorado officers violently arrested woman, 73, with dementia, and then mocked her. Now they face charges

Andrea Salcedo reports:

It took Officer Austin Hopp less than 30 seconds from the moment he stepped out of his squad car to violently pin Karen Garner, a 73-year-old grandmother of nine, to the ground.

Moments later, the officer in Loveland, Colo., handcuffed Garner and pushed her against the hood of his patrol car — her arm audibly popping — as his colleague Daria Jalali assisted him in the June arrest.

That interaction recorded by Hopp’s body camera left Garner with a dislocated shoulder and a fractured arm, her family said. She later spent hours inside a booking cell without receiving any medical care while officers mocked her arrest.

On Wednesday, nearly a year later, Colorado authorities charged both officers with multiple counts in connection with Garner’s arrest, according to affidavits filed in Larimer County District Court. Both officers previously resigned from the department.

Hopp, 26, was charged with using excessive force and purposefully misleading his supervisors. While in custody, Garner told Hopp that she was in pain at least 14 times, prosecutors said, yet he did not provide medical care.

Jalali, 27, was charged with not intervening while Hopp allegedly used unnecessary force, and not reporting Hopp’s conduct.

Sarah Schielke, an attorney representing Garner’s family, said the family still wants to see others at the police force face charges.

“We are relieved that some criminal charges were filed at all, however we are deeply concerned that they stopped short of charging either of the involved supervising sergeants,” Schielke told The Washington Post.

Sgt. Phil Metzler, who supervised Hopp and Jalali, remains suspended while the city conducts an independent investigation, police said. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Body-cam video shows Louisiana troopers stunned, hit, and dragged Black man before his deat

 

Hannah Knowles reports:

At first, police told Ronald Greene’s loved ones that he died in a car accident — plowing into a tree late one night in 2019 after driving past a traffic stop, according to a lawsuit filed by the man’s family.

Video told a different story, and a familiar one to critics of a state police department plagued by allegations of excessive force against drivers of color.

Body-camera footage published by the Associated Press — withheld for two years by authorities — captures Greene wailing and saying, “I’m sorry!” as Louisiana state troopers violently arrest him, deploying what the AP identifies as a stun gun after the Black man appears to raise his hands inside his car. Officers later punch Greene in the face, drag him briefly by his shackled ankles and leave him to moan alone while handcuffed for more than nine minutes, according to the AP.

“I’m scared! I’m scared! … I’m scared!” the 49-year-old yells while bent over in the front seat. “I’m your brother. I’m scared!”

Excessive force left Greene “beaten, bloodied, and in cardiac arrest,” his family’s wrongful-death lawsuit states. Medics found him unresponsive, it says, and he was pronounced dead minutes after arriving at a hospital, but it took months for the state police to open an internal investigation.

Lee Merritt, an attorney for the family, said he hopes the leaked footage will push leaders to hold the officers involved accountable as the Justice Department reviews the case. Greene’s loved ones had already seen the video, but authorities have refused to make it public while inquiries are pending. Merritt said officials have tried to minimize and bury what led up to Greene’s death.

“This was a malicious attack on the side of the road on a fully surrendered man,” he said in an interview, calling for criminal consequences.

The Louisiana State Police did not dispute AP’s characterizations of the body-camera footage Wednesday and declined to share the video, saying federal and state authorities are still reviewing Greene’s death.

“The premature public release of investigative files and video evidence in this case is not authorized and was not obtained through official sources,” spokesman Nick Manale wrote in an email to The Washington Post. He added that such release “undermines the investigative process and compromises the fair and impartial outcome for the Greene family, LSP employees, and the community.”

The Justice Department said Wednesday evening that it has an open criminal investigation of the incident involving FBI agents, its civil rights division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana. The department “will take appropriate action” if it finds that any federal crimes were committed, it said.

Merritt noted that the Justice Department has become more “active” under the Biden administration — announcing high-profile hate-crime charges and opening investigations of heavily scrutinized police departments.

“The trend that I’m seeing in 2021 in particular — it gives me hope in this case,” he said.

Lawyers for the troopers involved in the arrest either declined to comment or did not respond to The Post’s inquiries on Wednesday.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Police departments should fire abusive officers and charge them appropriately. (Police unions disagree.)

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2021 at 12:35 pm

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