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by Peter Moskos

July 27, 2016

All charges dropped against the Baltimore Six

Marilyn Mosby said she is dropping all charges against the six Baltimore Police officers in the custody death of Freddie Gray. In the press conference she sounded like a petulant child who was caught out doing bad, and so blames everybody else instead. "Systemic issues," she said. I think a voice of humility, noble humility, might have served her better. But then she's not trying to get my vote.

Former commissioner Batts, who lost his job over all this was against criminal prosecution (or so went the rumor, now confirmed by Batts), hit back strongly against Mosby:
"She's immature, she's incompetent, she's vindictive and that's not how the justice system is supposed to work."
Come on Anthony, tell us what you really think.
"The justice system is supposed to be without bias for police officers, for African Americans, for everyone.... Don't create more flaws in that broken system," he said. "And you don't do it on the back of innocent people just to prove that point.
OK. Remember, this is coming from a guy who once basically called Baltimore's black officers a bunch of Uncle Toms.

And Batts continued:
"There was no question that Freddie Gray should have gone home after that interaction. But sometimes when people are doing the job of police work, bad things happen sometimes."
"My heart bled for these officers as they went through these steps. I think Marilyn Mosby is in over her head... I didn't see any malice in the heart of those police officers. I don't think those officers involved are those you would put in the class of bad or malicious or evil police officers."

Batts said Mosby cannot make police her scapegoat by saying officers obstructed her investigation to protect their colleagues. "There was no obstruction," Batts said. "I would have taken off anyone's head if I knew they were obstructionist. … The judge said it: (The case) didn't have merit and you can't put that on anyone else."

Here's my question, what changed in the past few days that led Mosby to her decision. She could have announced this weeks ago. But she did so today. So something changed. And I don't think it was God telling her in her prayers. Does anybody know?

Two ideas:

1) Word came from the top, perhaps the top of the Democratic party, perhaps via the mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who is secretary of the national Democratic Party. Rawlings-Blake defended the judge and said she "certain [does not] agree" with Mosby's comments disparaging the criminal justice system.

Now Mosby is an independent elected official. Does she know it's not normally wise to fight city hall?

I like this theory more:

2) Perhaps the new prosecuting team said they didn't want to move forward. The whole State's Attorney's Office is facing lawsuits related to unethical prosecution. And the charges, whether they're proved or not (I kinda doubt they will be) are not groundless. If you're a lawyer, perhaps you really do have objections to prosecuting a groundless case. You certainly should. But even if not, why would you want to open yourself up for hassles, lawsuits, and potential disbarment in a losing case?

Now we'll see how the internal discipline process works out. I'd love to be a fly on the wall of Commissioner Davis's office for these discussions.

July 25, 2016

20 People Shot at Florida Nightclub (ho hum)

From the Times:
Two teenagers were killed and at least 18 people were wounded early Monday when attackers raked a crowd with gunfire outside a nightclub here that had been hosting a party for young people, the authorities said.
Sound familiar? Yeah, because it is. But this isn't even the main story of the day.

It kind of started as news, but then, you see, the victims weren't gay, or white, or blacks shot by cops, and the shooter (or shooters) wasn't a "terrorist," which really means he didn't have an Arabic last name, nor a "troubled" white kid.

Obama won't speak about it; Trump won't claim he can fix it. You know, it was just one of our "routine" mass shootings. The story is demoted to "Fort Myers shooting: 2 dead outside teen party at club," like these lives don't matter. Like this is acceptable in a civilized society. No matter a 12-year-old was killed, it's just "ghetto" crime. Dog bites man.

Just think of the news editors who really ask these questions before keeping "Convention Tension" as the lead story of the day.

What a country.

"The False Promise of a ‘Conversation’ About Race"

John McWhorter wrote this article about race and racial discourse. I doubt most readers here subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education. It's behind a paywall, and you can't access it back-door style through google. So though this excerpt doesn't really do his whole argument justice, it's better than nothing:
After the horrific shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, we are hearing again that America needs to have a national conversation about race....

Indeed, America needs a new consensus on the relationship between black people and the police. Feeling under siege and in danger of being murdered by appointed peacekeepers is the keystone to black people’s sense that racism permeates life in modern America.

But if America finally engages in this conversation, it would be wise to avoid the ideological distortions, idealizations, and missteps that have characterized previous entreaties for it....

This idea that on race in America there is always a shoe that hasn’t dropped, that a certain vaguely articulated Great Day has yet to come in which whites realize their culpability in black people’s income, health, and educational disparities and in some way act upon it, is the fulcrum of almost all of today’s discussion of, writings about race.
However, it’s not always clear that these thinkers understand what a radical proposition they are making. Much of the difficulty in convincing whites beyond an educated fringe that they are "on the hook" for black suffering is that, beyond the painfully stark episodes of police brutality, the lines of causation have become so tortuous.
But for better or for worse, this kind of explanation is a tough sell beyond a certain mostly educated and highly sympathetic fringe of the American population.
Some conversation advocates will claim that I distort their reasoning, but the question is: What else is it that you are hoping this conversation will be about? Again, police brutality is one thing, and needs to be discussed, but "conversation" advocates are calling for much more.
This is hardly a call for giving up on the battle against black America’s problems.... However, nothing requires teaching white people that everything that ails black America is because of racism you can’t quite feel, taste, or see but is always nevertheless there.
It has now been 50 years since the Black Power movement arose.... The Great Day has never shown the slightest signs of coming, it is time to admit that it isn’t going to happen. The "conversation" about race is thinking black Americans’ Great Pumpkin. What we have now is all there will ever be.
Black people, then, need no "conversation" that isn’t aimed directly at concrete changes, such as eliminating the war on drugs, teaching poor children how to read according to methods proven scientifically to work, and providing as many women as possible with long-acting reversible contraceptives. That is, black America needs policy, not psychological revolution. All of those things could happen in an imperfect America where no "conversation" has taken place, where nonblacks continue to eat their hot dogs on the Fourth of July without a thought of what happened to black people in the past (a scenario that irritates Coates), where whites in psychological tests reveal themselves to have ugly little biases against black faces as opposed to white ones, where Donald Trump continues to pretend not to know what David Duke’s feelings about black people are, and where, in general, black people, like everyone else, grapple with a grievously less than perfect nation and try their best.
That calls to get real things done rather than to hope for whites to "really understand" are now seen as uncharitable and backward is a testament to how deeply the post-Black Power ideology has permeated the consciousnesses of those seeking to create change for black America.... We need governing not with words, but with words rigorously linked to intended actions. There was a time when this was called activism.

July 24, 2016

"One Police Shift: Patrolling an Anxious America"

From the New York Times: "Riding along with officers illuminated fears they confront, compassionate gestures from the public after two recent ambushes against the police, and varied responses to the Black Lives Matter movement."

July 22, 2016

RIP Thomas Lynch, d. 1849

On July 22, 168 years ago, Thomas Lynch was the first police officer in America (at least best I can tell) to be fatally injured in the line of duty:
Patrolman Lynch responded to 16 Dover street after receive a report of a large dispute. As he tried to mediate the dispute, he was struck in the head 11 times with an iron pipe. He was seriously injured and died 14 months later from his injuries.
Keep mind the the New York Municipal Police Department was the only municipal American police department for four years. (In the 1850s most cities set up similar organizations.)

July 21, 2016

Clarence Thomas, misdemeanor convictions, and constitutional rights

[Note: I wrote this back in March. It never ran. It's no longer even relevant, since the Supreme Court ruled in June (Voisine v. United States) that you can lose your right to own a gun over a misdemeanor conviction. But I still thought I'd let it see the light of day.]

On February 22, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas asked his first question from the bench in over 10 years. It might have been worth the wait.

Most of the news coverage was about the fact he spoke at all. And, of course, of all the questions he could have asked, this one was about giving guns to more people. From the New York Times:
Justice Thomas’s questions on Monday came in a minor case on domestic violence convictions and gun rights. He made a series of inquiries about whether misdemeanor convictions can permanently suspend a constitutional right.
“Ms. Eisenstein, one question,” he started, according to a transcript released by the court. “This is a misdemeanor violation. It suspends a constitutional right. Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?”

After some back and forth, Ms. Eisenstein said she could not think of one, though she added that First Amendment rights could be affected in comparable settings.

“O.K.,” he said. “So can you think of a First Amendment suspension or a suspension of a First Amendment right that is permanent?”
She could not.

Thomas continued:
You're saying that recklessness is sufficient to trigger a violation misdemeanor violation of domestic conduct that results in a lifetime ban on possession of a gun, which [is] a constitutional right.
If the right to own a gun is prohibited because of one misdemeanor plea, can government also take away freedom of speech or the right to vote on a similar pretext?

Of gun restrictions are particularly relevant to police officers. The Brady Bill, enacted in 1993 after President Reagan and his press secretary, James Brady, were shot, (among other things) forbids anybody convicted of domestic violence from legally possessing a gun. This means that a person who plead guilty to even one domestic-related misdemeanor can't be a police officer. It's the only absolute automatic disqualifier to being a cop.

"Good," you might say, "people who beat up their partner shouldn't have guns or be cops!"

And I'd agree with that. But is our justice system fair? Does it only entraps the guilty?

You don't even have to assault someone to be arrested for domestic violence. On a good day police officers' discretion can weed out most of the innocent before they get arrested. In some states (Maryland, for instance, but not New York) cops cannot arrest people for misdemeanors unless police witness the crime. But in domestic cases the law is different. Police will arrest you if there is any sign of physical injury. But people lie to cops and judges all the time. If you really want to, it's quite easy to get somebody locked up for domestic violence.

Sometimes, and it's never politically correct to bring this up, loved ones be crazy. Many years ago a (female) student of mine was (I do believe) being stalked by her crazy ex-boyfriend. When she called police she got locked up because he was clever enough to go to a judge first, lie, and get a warrant for her arrest. It happens. The irony of a domestic violence victim being arrested because of strong domestic violence laws was not lost on her or me.

She wanted to be a cop. If she plead guilty, perhaps just to get out of jail that night, she won't be. And what if she were a police officer?

Or imagine a case where you get into a small fight with a friend. Nobody is seriously hurt, but somebody called police. You've made up by the time police show up. Cops ask if anybody is injured. You both have nothing more serious than minor scratches. That would be that.... "No police services needed," as the Baltimore Police code goes.

Unless... unless the case is "domestic." In Maryland "domestic" means you've once had sex. In New York "domestic" expands to people living under the same roof. (Though I'm not certain if two sisters fighting in New York City counts as "domestic violence" under the Brady Bill. I hope not). If it's "domestic," somebody is going to jail. That's how the law works.

Domestic violence laws eliminate the safeguard of officer discretion, and, unlike non-domestic assault, force police to arrest. Perhaps a domestic victim was defending herself, but gave better than she got. Domestic violence laws handcuff police by forcing police to handcuff others. Basically -- and I don't mean to discount the seriousness of real domestic abuse and progress made in reducing domestic violence -- when cops show up to a domestic squabble, two people have had a fight, and cops arrest the winner.

Innocent people do get arrested. Getting out of jail is one of the reasons people plead guilty to a crime they didn't commit. We should all remember Kalief Browder. He spent three years in Rikers Island jail for a minor crime of which he was probably innocent. He just wanted his day in court. He never got it. After three years of incarceration (and abuse by inmates and guards) prosecutors dropped all charges. A short time later, after being released, he killed himself.

Now perhaps you're willing to accept a few innocent arrests if it reduced crime. But the irony is that mandatory and preferred-arrest domestic-violence laws, because they're harsh and reduce police discretion, do very little to reduce domestic-violence. And the effect of arrest on the poor and employed -- to whom the law is disproportionate applied -- is harmful: arrests increase domestic violence recidivism. The laws do not work.

Take this case I wrote about in In Defense of Flogging (The title, I feel I should point out, does not refer to domestic violence):
Once I responded to a domestic call after a man came home, admitted to catting around, got yelled at, and earned a big fat lip when his wife slugged him. He deserved it, he told me (and he probably did). But while his wife was yelling, neighbors called the police. Guess what? She went to jail.
That's the way it is. That's how mandatory and preferred arrest laws work on the street. Of course had this case not been domestic-related, I never would have locked her up. And I assume she plead guilty (since she was) to misdemeanor assault. Now she has a record for domestic violence and can never legally own a gun.

When you combine overly restrictive domestic-violence laws with overly permissive prosecutorial discretion, you get a perfect storm of injustice. Thomas's point, a valid point, I think, is rarely does one misdemeanor plea have such constitutional -- and in a cop's case, occupational -- consequences. It's time to rethink these laws.

Crime is up then down than level then down slightly (then up)

The Atlantic has a fun guess-the-homicide-rate-over-time game!

Turns out I'm really good at this game.

But I shouldn't boast; I have no excuse not to do well. I show this chart literally half a dozen times in each and every class I teach.

What I don't like is how dismissive they are of the current increase in violence, the largest percentage increase in homicide in decades. They quote the Brennan Center, which has been bending over backwards to downplay the recent increase in killing. (Lest there be any evidence of an effect whose name shall not be spoke.... You know, the one that starts with F, son.) The Center wants us to see those dead bodies not as real lives who mattered, but statistical flukes.

Hands up don't shoot

"As long as I got my hands up, they're not going to shoot me. This is what I'm thinking. Wow. Was I wrong."

What the f*ck? Charles Kinsey is almost obscenely complaint. And unarmed. Does anybody have a link to a video that shows the moment he's shot? I'd like to see it. But unless a gun magically flew into his hands, this might top Walter Scott , Oscar Grant, and Andrew Thomas as as the worst police-involved shooting ever.

And how long does an autistic guy have to rock with a toy truck before cops realize it's a toy truck after being told it's a toy truck. Do none of the cops have binoculars? I had binoculars.

The only silver lining is that Mr. Kinsey won't have to work as a therapist much longer. (And also that the cop was a bad shot.) Of course he may need to spend some money on therapy himself.

July 20, 2016

Princeton in the Nation's Service

My alma mater sent this out to their graduate-student mailing list.
From: W. Rochelle Calhoun [rochelle.calhoun@PRINCETON.EDU]
Sent: Friday, July 08, 2016 2:44 PM
To: allgs@Princeton.EDU
Subject: Letter from Vice President Calhoun and Deans Dolan and Kulkarni

Dear Princeton Students,

Within the past few days, we have been faced with the tragic deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in St. Paul, and the deaths of five police officers after a peaceful protest rally in Dallas. Last month, we grieved the deaths of those mostly LGBT and Latino/a/x people slaughtered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. We’ve also read about suicide bombings in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed too many innocent people, as these incidents always do.
Grave injustices continuously plague our communities of color at the hands of law enforcement. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile will now be counted among the 509 people who have lost their lives at the hands of the police in 2016. The 49 people who died at the Pulse in Orlando join the countless people targeted because of their sexuality, race, or ethnicity. The bombings in Bangladesh and around the world exemplify the use of terror to assert hegemony.

We must be willing to confront global and national hatred head on. As Angela Davis, who spoke on our campus last spring, said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
We intend to use all of our intellectual and emotional campus resources to address the violence in global culture and to consider how we might act against social injustice and hatred. We also hope you will work in solidarity with your own communities to speak out against injustice of all kinds.

Most of you are away from campus this summer. But we want to remind you that we will continue to engage, educate, and empower our Princeton community to confront racial, gendered, ethnic, religious, and all systematic cycles of oppression.

W. Rochelle Calhoun, Vice President for Campus Life

Jill Dolan, Dean of the College
Sanjeev Kulkarni, Dean of the Graduate Students
Normally I'd just let this slide as just crazy talk (sort of like two spaces after a period). But sometimes you gotta call sh*t out. For shame. Those "who have lost their lives at the hands of the police" should not be compared to victims of suicide bombers and innocents killed on a dance floor.

Let's take three of the 532 (at the time of this writing) killed by police, apparent victims of "systematic cycles of oppression."

Mario Sandoval:
A 19-year-old Hispanic man armed with a gun, was shot on March 24, 2016, in Pueblo of Laguna, N.M. A Laguna police officer was investigating a stolen car outside a casino. When the officer confronted the car's two occupants, gunfire was exchanged. The officer was shot, and Sandoval was killed.
How does "global and national hatred" fit into this shooting?

Or Rakeem Bentley:
A 24-year-old black man armed with a gun, was shot on Jan. 15, 2016, in Southfield, Mich. An FBI task force was conducting an undercover operation at a hotel. Bentley, a fugitive from Kentucky, exchanged gunfire with an officer. Bentley shot the officer, who was wearing body armor, in the chest.
Was this "a grave injustice" against "our communities of color at the hands of law enforcement? What part would you change, exactly?

Or Tristan Vilters:
A 24-year-old white man armed with a gun, was shot on June 30, 2016, in Park County, Colo. Park County sheriff's deputies responded to a domestic disturbance. Vilters had shot and killed his brother. When deputies arrived, he began shooting at them, injuring one.
Sometimes people need to be shot. That's part of the reason we have police.

No cop goes to work hoping to shoot somebody. Certain not any one of the six graduated-from-Princeton police officers I've spoken to. These men and women, unlike most investment bankers or management consultants, got a good education and manage to live up to the university's motto of "In the Nation's Service."

July 14, 2016

Reducing police-involved shooting & "The List"

This past week John McWhorter and I were both (separately) on Bloggingheads.tv with Glenn Loury to talk about race and all the recent shootings. McWhorter emphasized race as a factor of those shot by police and:
challenged those who disagree to present a list of white people killed within the past few years under circumstances similar to those that so enrage us in cases such as what happened to Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Walter Scott, Sam Debose and others.
Well I keep track of these things and through Glenn passed some names on to Professor McWhorter. I give sincere respect to Professor McWhorter for his intellectual honesty today in Time:
The simple fact is that this list exists.
When a black man is killed by a cop, do we grieve more because there are 46 million of us as opposed to 198 million whites? I doubt it: most Americans never hear about the white men’s deaths at all.

Rather, we operate according to a meme under which cops casually kill black men under circumstances in which white men are apparently let off with a hand slap -- and occasional cases of just that are what often get around social media, suggesting that they are the norm.
However, at the end of the day any intelligent engagement with these issues must keep front and center that there was a Daniel Shaver for John Crawford, a Michael Parker for Walter Scott, a James Scott for Laquan McDonald. Economist Roland Fryer’s conclusions, stunning even to him, that cops use more force against black people but do not kill them more than they kill whites is perhaps less perplexing than it seems.
Unlike McWhorter, I was not surprised by Fryer's conclusions. Like McWhorter, "I am neither a neither Republican nor conservative." But unlike McWhorter, I am white. (Though I have written about some of the more egregious cases, it sounds a bit funny to say, Romney like, "I have a binder full of white people!") I don't want to be liked and linked to by racists and the "alt-right".

But I've researched and written about race before. I said, "The idea that police don't use lethal force in a racist way might be a tough pill for many to swallow." But if one wishes to reduce police-involved shootings -- and all of us do; cops don't go to work hoping to shoot somebody -- there are good liberal reasons to de-emphasize the significance of race in policing.

Jonathan Ayers, Andrew Thomas, Diaz Zerifino, James Boyd, Bobby Canipe, Dylan Noble, Dillon Taylor, Michael Parker, Loren Simpson, Dion Damen, James Scott, Brandon Stanley, Daniel Shaver, and Gil Collar were all killed by police in questionable to bad circumstances. McWhorter added Alfred Redwine and Mary Hawkes. (Maybe I'll get around to linking to all these names, but until then, find them through google or from Washington Post data. What they have in common is none were black and very few people seemed to know or care when they were killed.
[Update: Here are more names worth considering, taken from comments to this post: David Kassick , Josh Grubb and Samantha Ramsey (examples of officer-created danger), John Winkler, Robert Saylor.

Zachary Hammond, Sal Culosi, John Geer.

Also, it turns out Bobby Canipe lived. But I'm still including him because, my God. And Michael McCloskey.

And it's well worth watching Glenn Loury and John McWhorter talk about The List in a more recent Bloggingheads.tv]
According to the Washington Post, 990 people were shot dead by police in 2015. 258 were black. More significant than racial differences -- much of which can be explained by racially disproportionate levels of violence -- are stunning regional differences.

Last year in California, police shot and killed 188 people. That's a rate of 4.8 per million. New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania collectively have 3.4 million more people than California (and 3.85 million more African Americans). In these three states, police shot and killed (just?) 53 people. That's a rate of 1.2 per million. That's a big difference.

Were police in California able to lower their rate of lethal force to the level of New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania -- and that doesn't seem too much to ask for -- 139 fewer people would be killed by police. And this is just in California! (And California isn't even the worst state; I'm picking on California because it's large and very much on the high end.)

Now keep in mind most police-involved shootings are not only legally justifiable, they are necessary and good at the moment the cop pulls the trigger. But that doesn't mean that the entire situation was inevitable. Cops don't want to shoot people. They want to stay alive. You give cops a safe way to reduce the chance they have to pull the trigger, and they'll certainly take it.

I really don't know what some departments and states are doing right and others wrong. But it's hard for me to believe that the residents of California are so much more violent and threatening to cops than the good people of New York or Pennsylvania. I suspect lower rates of lethal force has a lot to do with recruitment, training, verbal skills, deescalation techniques, not policing alone, and more restrictive gun laws. (I do not include Tasers on this list.)

If we could bring the national rate of people shot and killed by police (3 per million) down to the level found in, say, New York City (The big bad NYPD shoots and kills just 0.7 per million) we'd reduce the total number of people killed by police 77 percent, from 990 to 231!