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by Peter Moskos

December 17, 2014

"If you point a gun at a police officer..."

I mention this article by Peter Katel in CQ Researcher (alas, behind a pay wall) because, along with lots of good stuff, there's a quote I wasn't expecting coming from my man Norm "a liberal critic of much police strategy" Stamper:
A video of the [Tamir Rice] shooting — showing a police car driving up next to the boy, who was shot two seconds later — demonstrates that the shooting never had to happen, Stamper concludes, saying the officer could have taken cover behind his car and evaluated the situation more calmly.

"A more mature, experienced, confident police officer would have better understood what he was facing,” Stamper says.

At the same time, he says Rice’s parents never should have let him outside with a replica pistol, and schools and police should ensure that children know an essential fact of life: No one seen to pose a mortal threat in the presence of police should expect to walk away, or even to survive.

“If you point a gun at a police officer, you have punched your ticket,” Stamper says. “I don’t care if it’s a toy gun.
Norm is right about a lot of things (like ending the drug war), including this.

High security walls may increase violent crime.

This is interesting, albeit about South Africa. But the basic idea is this:
Walls are actually making things worse. “No one can see what is happening in your home so no one can help,” she told the [South African] Daily News. They keep people from being each other’s natural lookout. And they are an even bigger barrier to social cohesion, in a country that needs it a lot.

Further, Marks told Quartz that high walls not only fail to curb crime, they attract criminals—once inside, the criminal is as isolated as the homeowner, free to do as they please.

The real Michael Brown

Yesterday I had a nice walk and dinner with a good group of cops who were to appear on CNN's Cops Under Fire about cops who have been involved in shootings. I also met Darren Wilson's lawyer. So I asked him a few things about Officer Wilson and Michael Brown.

The decisive evidence? Brown's actual skin on the slide and hammer of Wilson's gun -- pretty damning -- and blood on the street showing that Brown did indeed charge Wilson where Wilson said.

I also asked the lawyer about a picture and a video floating around the web that purport to show Michael Brown doing bad things. The picture is of Michael Brown with guns, drugs, and money. That *is* Michael Brown. The video of "Michael Brown" beating down a defenseless person is *not* Michael Brown.

What about "fruit of the poisened tree"?

From NPR:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that police officers don't necessarily violate a person's constitutional rights when they stop a car based on a mistaken understanding of the law.
The court said the officer made a "reasonable mistake." Hence it's not an unreasonable search and seizure.

The case involved drugs found after a traffic light for one broken brake light in a state where one broken brake light isn't a traffic violation.

How can police claim ignorance of the law as a defense?

Strange, I say. Eight of nine supreme court justices disagree with my take.

December 16, 2014

Pot is in the news

From the LA Times:
Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government's prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy.

The bill's passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.
Also, I think more significant, as as reported by USA Today:
Marijuana use among teens declined this year even as two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized the drug for recreational use, a national survey released Tuesday found.
Of course we can't be certain till we try it, but all evidence (seen in the US, Portugal, and the Netherlands) seems to show that ending prohibition does not increase drug use. This is a big deal because the effect of prohibition versus regulation (ie: legalization) on drug use really is the core issue related to people's support of the drug war.

If ending the drug war lowered drug use -- and it's a big "if" but it's certainly a possibility -- would you still support the war on drugs. Is the war on drugs worth fighting for it's own sake simply because drugs are wrong? Even if that same drug war causes more people to take and be harmed by drugs?

If you can't conceive of how ending the drug war could reduce drug use, consider these factors, in no particular order:
1) Kids love doing what they're not supposed to do.
2) Peer pressure is stronger when you're doing something illegal. To protect yourself, there's greater pressure to implicate everybody.
3) Drugs can be dangerous. Honest education is better at reducing harms than "just say no" and cracked eggs on a frying pan.
4) I've yet to meet anybody who says they would love to try heroin, if only it were legal and regulated. People do or don't take drugs for many reasons, the law seems pretty low on the list. 
5) Prohibition doesn't actually work. Drugs are not hard to get.

Baltimore Officer Down

From the Baltimore Sun:
Groman and another officer approached the car from the driver's side and another officer approached from the passenger's side, police say in charging documents. Officers directed the driver, Tavon Sullivan, to get out of the car, police say, and he sat on the sidewalk.

Police say Jones, sitting in the back seat, refused Groman's orders to exit. Groman told Jones to show his hands, which were in his jacket pocket and waistband, according to Maj. Stanley Branford, commander of the Homicide division, but Jones did not.

Police say Groman told Jones he would be tased if he didn't comply. Groman pulled out his Taser just as Jones pulled out a black Rossi .357-caliber revolver, police say in charging documents.

Detectives said Monday they do not know who fired first. No officers fired a gun, police said. After Groman was struck, police said, Jones ran out of the car and was chased by two officers.

Police say Jones ran into a backyard and was scaling a fence when an officer hit him with his Taser, allowing police to arrest him.
"We've had marches nationwide over the fact that we have lost lives in police custody," [Commissioner] Batts said. "I wonder if we'll have those same marches as officers are shot, too."
It's worth noting that 1) Yes, cops get shot at even in situation where the shooter has no realistic chance of getting away with it. 2) No officer fired a shot. And this includes even after the suspect shot an officer and was trying to run away. I mention this because if cops really were out there to murder black people, this would have been a fine chance to get away with a freebie. But that's not the way police officers think. 3) Had the officer drawn his gun instead of a the less-lethal Taser, well, who knows what would have happened? But the Taser didn't help keep Groman from being shot. 4) Had the officer drawn his gun, no doubt some people would be complaining about an officer drawing his gun for no good reason.

Officer Groman is expected to "recover." But as I've said before, you don't ever completely recover from something like this. My thoughts are with him

"Why aren't more Christians speaking out against Lindsey Blansett?"

Lindsey Blansett killed her 10-year-old son by stabbing him and bashing him a rock so he could "go to heaven" rather than face a life full of "suffering and pains." I haven't heard anybody blame Jesus Christ for this woman's actions. But I'd bet she was driven by her own mistaken perception of Christian ideology. I suspect that she considered herself a Christian. But Christians don't stab and bash their children with rocks. An effective shortcut to heaven? That, I can safely say, is a misreading of the Bible.

So where are the Christian priests condemning Blansett's actions? To date, I have seen no statement from Bartholomew, His Most Divine All-Holiness and Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek-Orthodox Church. Does this mean 23-million Greek Orthodox, myself included, secretly condone Blansett's actions? Of course not. Some times homicidal people are just crazy.

I mention this because it really is no different than blaming all Muslims (or Islam itself) when self-proclaimed "Islamic" terrorists kill people. We don't blame all Jews (or Judaism itself) for the actions of Baruch Goldstein. Nor do we blame Christianity for Lindsey Blansett. See, when you kill innocent people, you're not a good follower of any religion. That really should go without saying.

Merry Christmas!

December 14, 2014

"To say it's all the fault of racist cops is letting the system off the hook"

A quote from me in an interesting article by James Reinl in Al Jazeera. I go on to say:
"Some people honestly believe that cops don't shoot white people and don't give tickets to white people for minor issues. This view is demonstrably false," Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore lawman and academic at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Al Jazeera. "Let's get the facts right and then talk about injustice - because there's plenty [of injustice] out there, but police provide a [too] easy scapegoat."

Well done NYPD. Well done NYC.

Once again the NYPD shows it can get the job down and keep the city safe. All in all, went off pretty well yesterday. Some protestors were chanting: "What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!" And one police officer had his nose broken when he tried to stop a protester from throwing a garbage can down on others from the top deck of the Brooklyn Bridge. A crowd attacked two NYPD Lieutenants: "Amid the fracas, the protester who was throwing the garbage can escaped. But he left behind a bag containing three hammers and a black mask."

And that wasn't the only incident. But all in all, we should be happy that injuries were were few and minor. 

I did read one angry cop tweet about how pissed off he was at the mayor, who should "let the NYPD take control again." What an idiot. Like it would better for the city -- or safer for the NYPD -- if the police were told to bust heads and bum-rushed the crowd, 1968 Chicago style
 The way I look at it is that thousands protested peacefully, police policed professionally, and everybody got to go home. Most everything went off without major problems (unlike, as usual, Oakland).

LRAD: Long Range Accoustical Device

I was a little too generous in my previous post when I said we don't know harm this device causes. From a 2012 NYPD briefing on the LRAD (Long Range Acoustical Device) via the Gothamist
In addition to having "loudspeaker" capabilities, the device can also be used, in a special mode, to propel piercing sound at higher levels (as measured in decibels) than are considered safe to human ears. In this dangerous range (above 120 decibels), the device can cause damage to someone's hearing and may be painful. It is this technology that device was designed for a USS Cole attack-type scenario. ... The device could be used to send out sound at a dangerously high level causing attackers to turn away, or at least, to cause pain/hearing damage to try and repel the attack.
The LRAD devices ... were deployed during the RNC in 2004, for use as loudspeakers.... The device was used as a louspeaker to make announcements to the crowd of protesters, with mixed results. No injuries were sustained.
Again from the Gothamist:
While there might be situations where police have a legitimate use for the device, such as dispersing a large and violent group, [Alex Vitale] says this wasn’t such a situation. "LRADs should be used to avoid having to do a baton charge," Vitale says. "This was used to scatter already scattered protesters."
And these devices were tested by the NYPD, in an empty parking lot.

[Also (and correct me if I'm wrong) the decibel scale is logarithmic: going from 1 to 10 is a ten-fold increase while going from 1 to 20 is a 100-fold increase. But this is the amount of power or energy in sound, which goes up 10 times every time decibels go up 10 units. But the volume of this sound, the way sound is perceived by the human ear, roughly doubles for every 10 decibel increase. 120 decibels sounds twice as loud as 110 dB (as does 110 compared to 100 dB). So 120 decibels sounds something like 64-times as loud as 60 dB, which is volume of normal speech.]

In Test #1, spoken voice commands were given. 320 feet away, sound was measured at 102 dB. In Test #2, noise bursts were used, and sound was measured at 110 dB. Now 320 feet is a pretty long distance. It's the length of a football field. Or half the length of an NYC subway platform (yes, the NYC subway trains really are 600+ feet long).

The NYPD LRAD tests were done on cold windy winter day at the beach in The Bronx. Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, an urban canyon with hard sides, is less than 100-feet wide (including sidewalks). You can't get more than 40 or 50 feet from the center of the street. So... what were the results of the NYPD test at a distance of 50 feet? "Potential danger area. Not tested." In fact, nothing closer than 320 feet was tested. It might be dangerous.

This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. But the NYPD won't have to foot the bill. It's going to be paid for by me and other resident taxpayers.

December 13, 2014

I can't hear you!

In 2004, the NYPD bought two "long-range acoustic devices" ($35,000 per) and said, "that they would be used only for announcements, and that their shrill deterrent function would not be employed." I didn't believe that for a second. Because, as is always the case, if you give cops toys, they will play with them. Which is why you should be worried about military hardware going to police departments.

Well this is military hardware. And of course they have now been deployed against US civilians. By my account, it was first used by police against US civilians in 2009.

Look, maybe sound devices are an effective use of crowd control. Maybe it's better than tear gas and batons. I don't know. But first don't you think we might want to be learn if sound cannons cause about lasting permanent damage? We simply do not know because we didn't care. They were to be used again terrorists we don't give a damn about.

These weapons are a tool used to keep terrorist boats away from Navy ships, to prevent another attack like happened to the USS Cole.

All I can think of while watching this clip is science fiction movies that portray the US in a depressing distopian future.

So now -- without any public debate or decision-making by elected politicians -- equipment designed to defend our troops against terrorists abroad is being used by civilian police departments against the public, some of whom who are "interfering with vehicular traffic."

Taking the totality of the situation, I say "fuck 'vehicular traffic'."

December 12, 2014

"The Police-Community Divide"

Best 22 minutes you're going to hear about the current state of policing. My colleague David Kennedy on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show. I can't thing of anything he said that I don't agree with.

Recipe for Outrage

If you want to be outraged, I find the lack of more public protest over the police-involved killing of Akai Gurley odd. I mean, if you're looking for an honest victim killed by police for no reason at all, why not focus on an honest victim killed for no reason at all (instead of say, a guy who robbed a store and then, almost assuredly, attacked a cop)?

Gurley was a guy walking down some dark stairs where he lived (the Pink Homes, NYC public housing). Next thing you he's struck in center mass by a police officer's bullet and dead. Just like that. Boom. Game over.

Seems like a rookie cop couldn't open a door without accidentally firing his gun (either that or he was so scared of being in the project stairwell that he fired blindly). This is an obvious, blatant, unambiguous, fuckup. And yet compared to Brown and Garner, you hear very little about Akai Gurley. Not to say there's been no coverage of his death, but is it even national news?
 Just imagine: the aftermath of Gurley's killing has been so non-controversial that we haven't even yet seen any attempt to personally besmirch the victim! I mean, come on now, I'm sure Fox News can dig up some previous incident or facebook picture that portrays Gurley in an unflattering light.

So why the lack of more outrage? I can think of three reasons -- lessons, you might even say -- as to how to handle a bad police-involved shooting.

1) We'll never know all the details. But apparently Commissioner Bratton felt like he knew enough to say right away that police messed up:
Bill Bratton characterized the incident as an “unfortunate tragedy” and an accident. Officials said Liang was holding a flashlight in his right hand and a Glock 9-mm. in the other when he opened the door to the eighth-floor landing.
Here's what Commissioner Bratton did not say, "I'm not commenting until we know all the details. An investigation is underway. Until we know all the details, we need to let the justice system work. But let me add that Gurley was no alter boy."

2) Sharpton has been pretty quiet about this. From last week's NY Post:
[Sharpton] muscled his way into the arrangements — and even put out press releases promising to deliver the eulogy — without ever consulting the family or offering to foot the bill.
But Gurley’s relatives told Sharpton to stay away rather than turn the somber ceremonies into a spectacle.
“Who made you the spokesperson of our family? We just want to bury our nephew with dignity and respect.”
“How can you do a eulogy for someone you don’t even know? It’s heartbreaking,” she said. By late Friday, Sharpton accepted a rare defeat and backed off, though he blamed it on “confusion and division” within the Gurley family.
Well that lessons the Sharpton Effect. Say what you want about Sharpton, but he does get media attention. Sharpton gives voice to the tree that otherwise just falls in the woods. And without anger, a perceived cover up, or a tone-deaf police department, there's little news story. Tragic mistakes are just a one-day story in the news.

3) The officer wasn't white. This matters, though I'm not certain how much. Last I checked, Asians can be racist, too. And other police-involved shootings involving non-white officers have become issues because of the race of the victim (Sean Bell, for instance). But certainly an "officer of color" (as they say) removes some of the typical boilerplate narrative.

So you've got an unquestionably innocent guy, and instant apology, a non-white cop, no Al Sharpton, and a justice system that hasn't (yet) let the shooter completely off the hook. All you're left with is some disembodied, vague fear of a rookie cop. That fear is probably more racist than anything that happened in the Ferguson shooting or Eric Garner's choking, but because it's all in an officer's mind until the gun gets fired, there's not much story.
For public outrage -- and I wish there were some way of addressing issues of racial justice and politics without focusing on individual ambiguous police incidents -- but maybe you need ambiguity to create conflict and allow people to disagree and project their moral ideology.

So here's my recipe for outrage (feel free to substitute some of the ingredients):

Take one beefy white cop and combine with an ambiguous hands-on police situation, a stonewalled inquiry, and a glug of bureaucratic tom-foolery. Do not apologize. Set aside. Place Al Sharpton in front of media cameras while at the side of the victim's family. Stir in some militarized police over-response (to taste) and add a twist of judicial inaction. Let simmer till everything bubbles over. Do not remove from heat.

Prep time takes years. But this handy recipe can be prepared in one day. Serves thousands.

[thanks to ZLO]

Policing protests

Just a few examples of effective policing with regards to protesters. From Kriston Capps at Citylab:
In essence, Nashville's police department made a decision to treat the protests like a parade, an event at which the law enforcement role is to provide security, not confront danger.
 Police even shut down a highway for the protesters when protesters were going to walk on it:
Anderson further noted that arresting protesters one by one would have taken hours; instead, after about 25 minutes, police reopened the highway, and protesters continued on their way.
 In Richarond, California:
Police chief Chris Magnus went further: He actually joined protesters this week. When about 100 demonstrators assembled downtown on Tuesday, Magnus stood with them, in full police gear, carrying a sign reading #BlackLivesMatter. "I spoke with my command staff, and we agreed it would be nice to convey our commitment to peaceful protest and that black and brown lives do matter," Magnus told the Contra Costa Times.

In both cities the protests ended with no violence and a great PR coup for police officers.

You know, somewhat to my surprise, I'm actually like the new protest tactic of shutting down roads. When you're protesting you want to make a scene. If you want to protest, standing in a barricaded corral doesn't cut it. The question is what kind of scene. And breaking windows and burning shit is good for nobody. So let's let protesters shut down a road for a bit. What's the big deal?

Keeping roads open is a strange line-in-the-sand for police departments to draw. Sure it sucks to be stuck in a traffic jam for an hours. But so what? Traffic jams cause you to be stuck in traffic. Traffic accidents shut down roads and freeways. So does the occasional marathon. So do, I should point out, police funerals.