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by Peter Moskos

January 31, 2009

General Says Shoot Drug Trafficers in Afghanistan

Not only is it illegal, it's stupid!
Here's the story in the Times.
Maybe Obama will fire Gen. John Craddock, this idiot.

In a confidential letter to NATO, he wrote: “It was no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective.”

That will win hearts and minds, for sure.

Oh, that crazy war on drugs.

January 29, 2009

Stories of the Eastern

I got Badges, Bullets & Bars in the mail and started reading it.

I am amazed (maybe pleased is a better word) to find that one story -- a police urban myth I constantly heard -- is true. There are many crazy stories cops tell. And every squad has its own ghosts. Most of the stories are probably true (you really "can't make this shit up"). But cops are also good bullshitters, so you never know for sure.

There are stories that come to mind that I fully believe are true but weren't in my book because, well, I didn't see it.

One involves fake snow and a sleeping police officer.

another involves an officer who dragged a cold dead body across the street so he wouldn't have to do paperwork.

Turns out the dead guy had the misfortune of dying right on a post boundary line. What made it even worse was the the line wasn't even a district line (I mean if he dumped the body on the Southeast... or even gave it Sector 1, well, that is a little funny). But the SOB dragged the body across the street so another member of his own squad had to deal with it! What a prick.

Or who knows? Maybe it never happened. (But it did.)

Another story I heard (many times) involved brothers on Durham St. One brother stabbed his brother with a butcher's knife. On Thanksgiving. At the family dinner table. Why? Because they were arguing about who would get the turkey legs.

Now that's certainly a doozie of story! True? Who knows? I mean, I wouldn't kill my brother over a bird leg. But then there's a lot of behavior in the Eastern I wouldn't do.

But I rarely heard stories that weren't true... I mean, why make shit up when there's such much true that is unbelievable?

But still... Thanksgiving? turkey leg? brothers? carving knife? table all set up and everything. It seemed too picture perfect to be true. I mean, maybe they were just "brothers." And it wasn't Thanksgiving. And it was while eating a chicken box. But really it was about something else.

Well... I'll be damned. In his book, Dan Shanahan was working Sector Two in the Eastern and says not only is the story true, but he was the primary at the scene! On Durham Street. In my sector. It happened back in 1976. (The way the story was told, it always seemed like it happened just nights before I hit the streets in 2000). Twenty-five years later (only one officer I worked with had more than 24 years on) this story was still being told to represent everything that was f*cked up about the Eastern.

Still. I'm happy to read this. I feel like Mythbusters. "Man in Eastern stabs and kills brother over turkey leg at family Thanksgiving dinner." Confirmed!

Prisoners no longer will work at farm

This is a shame. And stupid. One guy escaped. So what?

From the Newark Start Ledger.

Murder Factory Part 2

In the Kansas City Star by Tony Rizzo.

January 28, 2009

The Good Old Days

It turns out you can fight City Hall. In 1857 they did. And won. It turns out that if you're City Hall, you can't fight the State House.

The winner of this brawl at City Hall between two competing police departments got to be New York's Finest!
The mayor was arrested and New York State took over the police (before giving them back a few years later).

I just got the image from wikipedia to use in class and thought I'd share.

Give that man a medal!

Too bad a story about an honest Liberian customs officer is news.

But hell, if I made $15 a month... I would probably take the $20,000 bribe.

So I guess he's a better man than me.

And they did give him a medal. And $1,000.

January 27, 2009

Bang bang, they hit the ground

Baltimore Crime turned me on to this:
Spotcrime maps every shooting in Baltimore (City and County) for 2008. Hit 'start' at the top left. Whether you want Turning of the sound to hear the bang bangs is up to you. At the time of this writing, I'm still only in October.

I can't tell if this is sick or genius. If I'm in doubt, I usually go for the latter.

The Epidemic That Wasn't

The New York Times reports on crack babies... not!

You know, for what it's worth, one of my favorite students confided in me that he was crack baby. He was all right.

Lol Cop

Pepper Spray Me led me this story in the Chicago Tribune about, Vincent Richardson, a 14-year-old who, apparently successfully, impersonated being a police officer for five hours. And not for the first time. And not just the normal pulling-over-cars-with-police-lights kind of thing. I mean this guy patrolled with a real live Chicago police officers and fooled him, too(!?). You would think the no gun or badge thing would raise eyebrows.

To paraphrase Chris Rock: Vincent Richardson is the Darius McCollum of Crime.

The Company of Others

When I was a cop in Baltimore, I kind of assumed I was the only active police officer going for a PhD at one fo them fancy graduate schools. I wasn't.

I've also assumed I'm the only former Baltimore police officer to write a book based on time in the Eastern District. I'm not.

I'm not certain why I only heard about Daniel Shanahan's Badges, Bullets, & Bars recently. Professor Edith Linn (retired NYPD) told me about it at the ASC conference in St. Louis. She's written a great book herself, Arrest Decisions. In it, she quantifies many of the points about arrest discretion I make in my book.

I've ordered Badges, Bullets, and Bars and look forward to reading it. You can read the 1st chapter here. It seems pretty hard core.

The book is dedicated to:
"All the excellent Law Enforcement officers who shortened their careers by crossing the thin blue line and venturing into the wrong territory; sometimes into criminal territory. Therefore permanently tarnishing their badge, reputation, family, and all the good that badge stands for. This book is for the police officers that could not find their way back, wanted to make a difference, and unfortunately, could have.”
Yikes! I imagine most police stayed far away from Shanahan. The stories of mentally unstable cops are legendary and usually great for a laugh... until somebody gets hurt.

But I'll withhold further judgment till I read his book. He certainly does not seem like a man you would want to cross.

You know, if you like police books, there's a great web site: Police-writers.com. If I checked it more often, I would have know all the books written by Baltimore police officers.

Embrace the Right

At the closing of Obama’s inauguration, Joseph Lowery said these controversial words:

“We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.”

Often, I suppose for the sake of politically correctness, the quote is replayed without the last “white” phrase (uh, as if “yellow” and “red man” are politically correct?). But it’s the last phrase that pissed off a lot of people (admittedly, when I first heard Lowery I was too busy laughing to even hear the last phrase).

Why are some so upset? What it all comes down to is the belief that Lowery “got away” with saying something that he could only “get away” with because he’s black.

Personally, Lowery’s comments were my favorite part of the whole day (at least of the parts that involved speeches)! It was great to end everything on a lighter note, and the retro 1960’s cadence was charming (I was born in the 1970s).

But I’m not surprised that so many take umbrage to what I see as a little humor with historical significance.

To those who were surprised that there’s such passion, I offer this:

Many people... and I’m thinking white working-class Republican police officers like those I worked with in Baltimore—but it could be anybody, I suppose.

Many people are just trying to get by and provide for their families. Unlike wealthier folk, these working men and women can’t always afford to live out in "nice" suburban neighborhoods with safe streets and good schools and where Section-8 housing fears to tread.

Say drug dealers move in down the block (be them redneck or ghetto) and things get worse. But say the drug dealers are black. Hell, they might be. Whenever working folk open their mouths, “liberals” (who of course don’t live on the block) call them racist. But they’re not. Really. They don’t hate drug dealers for the color of their skin; they hate drug dealers for the content of their character.

Working folk too often don’t know the politically correct way to phrase things. Working class blacks can say all kinds of things about blacks that white folk can’t say. But the poor white guy, he feels he can’t even join the conversation.

Here’s the rub: for people who so often feel trapped in a linguistic and socioeconomic bind—those who always feel they have to watch what they say so they don’t get called racist—it’s just not fair that Lowery gets applauded for these racially charged words.

Take it when Sarah Palin was referred to as “pig in lipstick.” No supporter of Palin was seriously offended. Hell, McCain used the same line. But that wasn’t the point. The point was a rare moment of victory for them in the linguistic gotcha game: “Ha, see, you’re not being politically correct!”

The thinking goes that if a black person can say something (take, for instance, a comment based on an honest observation like, “that nigga’s lazy!”), why can’t a white person say the same thing? Especially if the black and white man are working together and thinking the same thing about the same lazy person?

What if Rick Warren, the white preacher said this: “We ask you to help us work for that day when white will not be asked to get back, and when black will embrace what is right. Amen.” Ignore the fact that it doesn’t make sense historically or rhyming sense. A white guy could not have said this to the nation. He’s be called racist. So if I white can’t say it, goes the thinking, why should Lowery get away with it?

People don’t want to be held responsible for what others of similar skin color have done (now or in the past). For a lot of whites, being white isn’t seen as a privilege. Hell, they haven’t benefited from the system. The Man ain’t given them shit! They can barely pay the bills.

I do understand the idea that people simple want a level playing field. There are people who want real racial equality. No affirmative action. No things that black coworkers can say that whites can’t. No nothing. No excuses.

Personally, I believe that such an attitude lack a historical perspective and too generously presumes we’re in some post-racial Utopian world (though I do think we’re a bit closer to that world than we were a week ago).

To those who took offense, Lowery reinforced a racial world view and represents an arrogant and liberal form of reverse discrimination. To generalize by race is a form of racial profiling; to do it against whites is just as discriminatory as to do it against blacks.

For me, in my humble opinion, Lowery can say anything he damn well pleases. And we’d be all the wiser to listen.

January 26, 2009

Undercover danger

The Sun reports that the wounded officer arrested the same defendant in 2007.

That's scary. It's much harder for a police officer to remember everybody he's arrested than it is for a criminal to remember the person who arrested him. It's just a question of numbers, like it's easier for students to remember their teacher's name than vice versa.

It's also why cops carry guns off duty. The last thing you want as a police officer out on a date is for somebody to come up to you and say, "You remember me?"

Murder Factory

Now here's some good investigating journalism from Tony Rizzo and the Kansas City Star. Local zip code 64130 is featured in a series called "Murder Factory." These eight square miles were home to 101 convicted murderers incarcerated in Missouri prisons.

No Sh*t

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports: "New Orleans breeds bold killers: half of murders occur in daytime."

Duh. Three ace reporters have bylines on this story. Didn't it occur to one of them to compare their stats with other cities?

They report: "About half of last year's 179 murders in New Orleans occurred in daylight," which is defined as between 6am and 8pm.

Now this isn't real hard-core research, but sitting at my computer drinking my morning coffee, I can discover that in Oakland, 55% of homicides happen between 6am and 10pm.

In Australia
(the whole country of 20 million, by the way, over a 13-year period ending in 2002, has an average of 316 homicides a year--that's a homicide rate about 1/30th of Baltimore City)...

In Australia, 61% of homicides happen between 6am and midnight.

Here's a table showing juvenile gun violence by time of day. I bet that homicides correlate pretty strongly with this chart.

That chart also reflects police call volume in high-crime areas pretty well. And thus (in part) why I liked working midnights.

My point is that of course half of homicides happen during daylight hours because that's when people are awake and out and about. And they increase throughout the day because that when problems develop and people get drunk. People don't wait till dark before killing somebody. People kill when they're pissed off and have the means and desire to do so. And when it's bed time, the violence goes down. People go to sleep and have sweet dreams. Then, just like Groundhog Day, it starts over again. And generally, people who kill aren't early risers.

So instead trying to find a grabbing headline or presenting this amazing fact as some deep pathology of criminals unique to New Orleans, perhaps the reporters should have just used the google.

[Note: In defense of the reporters (Laura Maggi, Brendan McCarthy and Brian Thevenot). Reporters don't write their own headlines. The rest of the story is pretty good. The fault may lay with an editor trying to make a story and an attention-grabbing headline where there really is no story.]

January 25, 2009

Real Money

According the Harvard Economist Jeffrey Miron, legalizing drugs could inject $76.8 billion per year into the US economy. Oh well, maybe it's better to keep spending that money on courts and prisons. It's not like the economy needs a boost or anything.

Read Miron's report here.

January 24, 2009

Decriminalization versus regulation

There tends to more talk about drug "decriminalization" than legalization. What's the difference? Decriminalization is "safer." But it's not enough. It can even do harm. I talk about this a bit in my book.

In general, legalization involves regulation while decriminalization is set up around less government control. I believe that many drugs are too dangerous to remain unregulated. Hence I support regulation and legalization.

Decriminalization also focuses more on the casual user. I don’t believe users should be locked up. But the harms from drug prohibition are primarily seen in the distribution of drugs. Users aren’t killing each other, dealers are.

Decriminalization almost always ignores the area of the market which has the greatest harms. Decriminalization tends to buy into the myth that users are harmless or victims needing treatment and dealers are evil and need to be locked up. This is an absurd assumption on all fronts. It would be akin a war on bartenders.

We as society can and should control how people get drugs. It’s a shame we don’t.

Police arrest three...

...in shooting of undercover city officer.

On backup

Check the Sun for the latest update on the shot Baltimore City police officer.

This has got me thinking about when things go bad.

If an officer needs backup, well first he or she shouldn't have to ask for backup, because, well, that's what being police is all about. You've got each others' back.

But if you would actually like an extra unit to help keep everything under control, you ask for a 10-11. A 10-11 is a request for a meeting. It could be a meeting for any simple purpose (paperwork, coffee, question, or just for the hell of it). It's not polite to ask another officer his location over the air. Because you have to answer. If you want to find somebody, better to ask for a 10-11.

But in the context of backup, a 10-11 will cause cops to gently run red lights. But it's not an emergency. Everything is under control. Better safe than sorry.

Then, say you chaos in the background of a radio transmission, or the fight is on. If you need help and you need it now, you call for 10-16. That means "backup."

You can also get assigned as 10-16 to somebody else's call. But that's not a big deal. That just means backup is the sense that the call should have more than one officer responding (like for an armed person, a domestic, or anything in progress).

But when calling for backup, 10-16 is pretty serious. You wouldn't ask for it lightly. But if you ask for a 10-11 with any sense of urgency the dispatcher will up it to 10-16.

A good dispatcher needs to keep track of all the units (15-plus in the Eastern, at least last time I checked) and call for backup when needed. Thus they're worth their weight in gold.

If you're really OK, you can do your best to call off the 10-16 saying something like. "No. I've got everything under control. I just need a 10-11."

There's no shame in asking for help if you need it. You just don't want to put other officers at danger for you for no reason. If you need backup, you'll get it. For a real 10-16, you're going to haul ass.

And then sometimes, not too often but often enough, things go wrong. When the shit hits the fan, it hits quickly. Signal-13 is broadcast city-wide and there's nothing higher.

There's a pause when the Signal-13 alert tone comes the radio (it's always preceded by a special tone). Everyone shuts up for a quick second to hear the details. Usually, it doesn't concern you. It's across town or it's 10-32ed right way by the officer who didn't really need (or want) the 13. Like if you don't answer your radio, you'll eventually get a 13 dropped until you do.

But if the 13 is for real, the adrenaline kicks in as you hit the gas and go code one. After a second or third 13 comes over the air, half the cars in the city will be heading your way (luckily, I was never on the receiving end of a Signal 13). As backup, you gotta be really careful. It's a dangerous time to be a cop with lots of fast cars and tunnel vision.

When everything is under control again, you'll hear "10-32," enough officers at scene. But by then, after the 13 went out, it's a little hard to call off the cavalry.

Cops will often come no matter. You get to meet your friends from other sectors and neighboring districts. You say hi, swap gossip, call each other names, and make social plans. It's a little powwow (and can be quite a clusterfuck). Eventually calls-for-service or a higher up will act as the umpire and break it up.

And if a 13 includes the horrible words, "officer down," that is not good. In the end, those close to the officer will go to Shock Trauma to be there for the officer and the officer's family. The sergeant will arrange for family notification and pickup (not a fun part of the job).

Meanwhile those still working the street have to keep answering the same bullshit calls plus a few extra posts. People don't stop being stupid just because an officer is down.

When the next shift comes in at the district, they'll be filled in informally and then formally at roll call. If things have been really chaotic, you might skip roll call and go right to the street to relieve somebody. Overall, the mood will be professional and much more business-as-usual then you might expect.

Seven year later, when watching The Wire, I would still perk up and pay attention whenever I heard the Signal-13 sound. And this from a TV show.

Update on shot cop

Here's the latest form the Sun:
The officer was shot in the jaw and cheek when he tried to make an undercover purchase, Bealefeld said. His partner returned fire and hit at least one of the suspects, according to police. As the suspects fled, the second officer helped his wounded partner, who was conscious and speaking after the shooting. He was conscious until he was placed under anesthesia for treatment at Shock Trauma.
And don't forget about every Baltimore City police officer who has to go right to work and do the job like it's any other day. If your coworker got shot on the job, you might get a day off.

Not police.

Stay safe.

January 23, 2009

Baltimore Officer Shot -- In Critical Condition

This terrible news just in at 10:30pm from the Sun:
A Baltimore police officer is in critical condition at a hospital tonight after being shot in the Seton Hill neighborhood, officials said.

The plainclothes officer was on duty in the 500 block of Orchard St. about 8 p.m. when he was shot in the face, said Nicole Monroe, a police spokeswoman. A police officer returned fire, she said, but it is not known whether the wounded officer, who was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, was accompanied or alone.

Shortly after the shooting, a person with a gunshot wound went to a hospital, Monroe said. Police are investigating to see whether there is any connection with the police shooting.

[update, 10:42pm: I just spoke to a friend of mine. He said word from Shock Trauma is that the officer should live, but did take a bullet in the jaw.

Also, I don't know the shot officer. Of course that shouldn't really matter. But, of course, it does matter to me. Regardless, I wish him and his family the best in what will not be an easy road to come. I'm with you.]

Prescription drug abuse

Police raided a 62-year-old Baltimore man's home who was suspected of selling prescription drugs. Along with drug (Percocet and Xanax) and money, 19 rifles and shotguns were seized. The Sun reports.

Police video cameras in Baltimore

Here's Peter Hermanm's report in the Sun.
The short: Surveillance cameras are helpful, but video is no 'slam dunk'

Harm Reduction

I enjoyed attending “New Directions for New York: A Public Health & Safety Approach to Drug Policy” sponsored at the New York Academy of Medicine and the Drug Policy Alliance.

I was speaking on the Harm Reduction – Coordinating Strategies panel. Unfortunately, because I broke one of my rules and wrote on the back side of a copied piece of paper (rather than in my notepad), I left my notes at the conference.

You can see the full program here.

The instructions I received, and I chose to accept them, were these:
The role we’d like for you to play on this panel is from a public safety perspective. We would like you to speak about where or how a harm reduction strategy would and could fit in the public safety sector, as well as what the barriers are. It would be tremendously useful to hear your thoughts on this matter as one who is an expert in the field of criminal justice and an ex-police officer that patrolled in an area with a disproportionately high rate of drug use.

There were six on out panal and we each had about eight minutes.

I made the following four points (or at least I tried to):

When I arrived in Baltimore, Harm Reduction as it was perceived was seen as a failed program and Kurt Schmoke, a very smart man and advocate of Harm Reduction, was seen as a failed mayor.

I support drug legalization (though I prefer to use the term regulation). I think it would reduce harm. But to play devil’s advocate to a room of harm-reduction supports I tried to make these points:

1) It’s probably a safe bet that most academics and policy makers who support Harm Reduction don’t live in neighborhoods where Harm Reduction causes harm.

As an example, in both Cambridge, Mass, and Baltimore I lived near methadone clinics. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I certainly prefer not living near a methadone clinic. Nobody wants to live next to a methadone clinic... and often for very good reasons. So if harm reduction involves methadone clinics, people who make policy need to understand the needs of all those affected, and not just those in the target population.

For Harm Reduction to work, it’s very important to understand the opposition to it.

2) Harm reduction needs to be judged with a multivariate perspective. That is to say, harm is a many faceted thing. For instance when it comes to drug addicts and a public drug market, there are a) the potential health harms to drug users, b) the harms of drug-trade (prohibition) violence, and c) to quality of life issues. If you’re just a normal working stiff, you very well might care most about the latter issue. But research, especially in the public-health fields, tends to be public-health oriented. In this case that means a lot of A and a little B.

3) Though I’m happy to back in an era of science, understand that many people oppose Harm Reductions on moral grounds, for instance: drugs are evil. Public-health people aren’t very good at conceiving of or talking about thing in moral terms.

To find common ground, emphasize the impact on saving lives. That is common ground. Previously, Jill Reeves had given a powerful speech about her own perspective as an addict. She mentioned that one of the greatest needs for addicts is a nine-one-one Good-Samaritan law. In other words, you shouldn’t risk arrest by calling for an ambulance to save a life. That might be a good place to start forming common ground.

4) Police generally are not sympathetic to Harm Reduction because, well, among other things, it’s not job. To ask police to care about clean needles for the health of addicts, well, it’s not their job. It would be like the police asking a doctor for help in bringing down a drug shop. It’s just not gonna happen. Public health messages geared to police need to focus of public safety and officer health.

Clean needles, for instance, should be any easy sell. It’s easy to see the link between dirty needles and officer safety. When an officer is sticked, you really hope that needle is clean. I hated seeing officers crush needles in the gutter. Do any addicts get clean by virtues of a police officer crushing their needles? I don’t think so.

In a different session, P. David Soares, Albany County District Attorney, made a very good point: if we want to stop young boys from working for drug dealers, it would help matters if we didn't make it illegal for anybody under 16 to work at all.

By far the loudest and longest applause (at least for what I attended) went to a CUNY colleague, Queens College Professor Harry Levine. He brought down the house (at least as much as you can at such a conference -- but this conference was open to the public, so it was a little more rambunctious than the average academic fair).

Levine ending his (precisely-timed) 10 minute speech by noting that if Obama had lived in New York under current NYPD arrest practices, he could easily have been arrested and, by having a criminal record, had no chance of becoming president. How many potential Obama’s lives out there right now, asked Levine, have we ruined through aggressive arrest policies in our war on drugs? The crowd, as is almost everybody in my New York world, was very pro-Obama.

Levin is co-author of "Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City 1997-2007." I learned a lot about New York State marijuana law and police practice regarding said law. And it's very readable.

I don’t think Levine is on the NYPD Chief's Valentine’s-Day mailing list this year.

If you believe in gun control...

...this article by Nicholas J. Johnson in the Wake Forest Law Review might ruin your day.

My summary: Stop wasting time trying to take away people's guns. It won't work. Deal with it.

300,000,000 guns is a lot of guns to confiscate, especially from people armed with guns.

(thanks to D.K. for sending me the article)

And then as I'm writing this I see this story about another crazy murderer in Belgium (what is it about Belgium? They seem nice enough...). He stabbed a dozen or so babies and infants and three adults. Three dead all together.

Then he got on his bike and road away (and was soon apprehended).

While gun lovers will probably point out that this wouldn't have happened if only the babies had been packing, I can't help but be happy that this murderous nut didn't have a gun.

But liking countries with fewer guns (much fewer) doesn't suddenly make gun control in this country any more possible.

January 22, 2009

Ghetto Court

The Detroit News reports:
Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr.'s administration was dealt an embarrassing blow Friday, after his top lawyer ignited a racial flap by saying the city's 36th District Court was "acting like a ghetto court."

Kathleen Leavey, who is white, resigned as the city's corporation counsel Thursday, but said the comment was misinterpreted. That same day, the court's chief judge, Marilyn Atkins, sent a scathing letter to numerous city officials calling the remark racist.

Deputy Mayor Saul Green asked Leavey to quit. Cockrel's spokesman, Daniel Cherrin, on Friday called the comments "unacceptable."
"I called it that because of the way they treat people," Leavey said, referring to long lines for service that are common. "They treat people poorly ... whether you are black or white. You just get less service than you get in the suburbs. It's just a bad situation."
"It definitely could be perceived as a racist statement," Kenyatta said. "I don't think she would have said that about Dearborn's court."

Leavey said she plans to revert to her civil servant position in the Law Department. She's been with the city since 1985, including a stint as director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department from 2000 to 2002.

"I am not going down without a fight," Leavey said.

She said she is "deeply, deeply wounded" by the accusations she is racist.

So basically this woman is being canned because she's white. I don't normally have much sympathy for this line or argument. But let's get real.

Calling a messed up court system "ghetto" should not be a firing offense. Especially if the court system is! Yes, I know calling something ghetto is offense to some. And I briefly address this in my book (and then proceed to call the Eastern District "ghetto" with a capital G.).

Yes, it's a loaded term. Ghetto can be a racist term; it can also be a descriptive term. If it's used to label a decent person as "low class" simply because of skin color, it's racist. But many people call themselves ghetto. Many people act ghetto. Many people don't.

To me, the question is whether calling the Detroit system ghetto is justifiable. Now I don't know the Detroit court system at all. But if it's anything like Baltimore's, and given Leavey's comments it probably is, the court system is underfunded, overworked, and virtually incapable of meeting out true justice for and to the hundreds of thousand of poor black men and women--men and women from the ghetto (many but not all of whom are ghetto)--that walk through it's revolving doors every year.

The court system is one big hustle. It's about getting by with what you got, pulling one over on people out to hurt you, and looking out for number one. The courts beat you down and saps your will to fight for what's right. You can call that justice if you want, but if that's not ghetto, I don't know what is.

January 21, 2009

One more thing...

This might be the last thing I write about the inauguration. But the Onion, as usual, has a very funny story.

It's official: Obama is a great black

The Great Blacks in Wax Museum unveiled their Obama statue. Pictures in the Baltimore Sun.

That's Rep. Elijah Cummings on the right. He's flesh and blood.

Now you might think I'm writing The Great Black in Wax Museum because of some thinly veiled hipster irony in this supposed post-racial era.

Actually, no. I just like the museum. And yes, unlike anybody else I worked with, I've actually been there as a paying customer. Wax museums crack me up. I always roll my eyes thinking about them. Doesn't everyone?

But then when I go to one, I find them very amusing and somewhat educational (for the record, I also like those old-fashioned behind-the-glass perspective-based panoramas museums used to be into).

Anyway, the Great Black in Wax Museum not only has a great name, but it's also one of the only cultural institutions that actually is in the Eastern District. 1601 E North Ave. It's just across the street from the far better patronized 1400 E North Ave.

Is the neighborhood safe? Well. No. But that shouldn't stop you. Just be careful. I'm not saying you'll be shot. I'm just saying lots of other people have been shot very nearby. If you can't park right in front on North Ave, I'd try the courthouse lot across the street.

They tried to warn us

See the cartoon by Tom Tomorrow in Salon.com.

January 20, 2009

Obama's Inauguration

Three Cheers!

I enjoyed the afternoon but was a little disappointed with Obama's speech. I thought he said all the right things. I liked it. But I don't think, unlike his race speech, that this was a speech for the ages. Oh well.

[update: John Dickerson at Slate.com agrees with me.]

I wonder when right-wing conspiracy theorists will question Obama's legitimacy (since I guess the supposed no-birth-certificate thing is played out) because, thanks to the Chief Justice's blunder, Obama never actually did say the oath of office with the correct words in order: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." But it was pretty clear from watching that Obama knew the words and was giving Roberts time to correct himself.

[update: Here's the Times story on the matter]

But don't worry; Obama is still President!

My favorite moments?

Obama tacking on "non-believers" after the list of religions that together make up America.

Obama saying, "We will restore science to its rightful place." It's nice to move on from the Scopes Trial of 1926. It's a shame that in 2009 we still have to.

But really, I loved Joseph Lowery ending it all on a lighter note with a retro 1960's cadence:

"We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right." Amen.

(McCain supporters can click here.)

Inauguration Day

Here's to the peaceful transition of power and a belated thanks to George Washington. Washington started a great tradition more than 200 years ago: he voluntarily stepping down from power rather than become a power-hungry dictator. Thanks, George.

Here's just a sampling of reports from elsewhere. One from Kenya and another from Turkey.

Adolphus is a nice name for a boy

File this under B for "bad parents."

Naming Children for Nazis Puts Spotlight on the Father

That's putting it mildly.

And to think I have a friend who hated being named Nimrod. Better a Biblical Mighty Hunter than Adolf Hitler Campbell, Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, and JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell!

The children have been taken from their parents. But not, supposedly, for their names. It doesn't seem hard to imagine that Mr. Campbell is not a good father. Why? Because he's crazy!
Mr. Campbell had at least two of the children’s names legally changed in recent months. He dropped his son’s original first name, Antonio (Adolf and Hitler had been the middle names), so he is now Adolf Hitler Campbell, and fixed his daughter’s birth certificate to correct the spelling of “Aryan.” (He has said that Hinler is the correct spelling of Himmler — that history books are wrong.)
The Campbell's landlord is not renewing their lease and is quoted in the Times as saying: “They’re not destroying anything, the house is clean and they pay their rent on time,” he said. But, he added, “There comes a point when you say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

January 17, 2009

30-pound marijuana brick delivered to wrong address

How come UPS never drops one off on my stoop? Well, maybe it's better that the police don't mistakenly raid my house.

One of my students works for UPS. Not delivering. But in their shipping building. He said (with disapproval) that a lot of his coworkers are street-level drug dealers when they're not on the clock at UPS. So it doesn't surprise me that some get involved in shipping.

January 13, 2009

He didn't follow orders

I feel like it was just yesterday I wrote:

"If police think you might be armed and you won't follow orders... well, it's on you. Sorry. It may not be right, but that’s just the way it is."

Here's a Baltimore case in point.

$815,000 for fired Seattle-area cop

Mike Carter of the Seattle Times reports:
A former Mountlake Terrace police sergeant whose views supporting the decriminalization of marijuana led to his dismissal in 2005 has won his job back and an $815,000 settlement from the city and Snohomish County.

However, Sgt. Jonathan Wender will not return to the streets. In addition to the financial settlement, the city has agreed to keep him on administrative leave and to pay him a $90,000-a-year salary for the next two years, when he will be able to retire after 20 years with the department.

In addition, he won back pay dating to when he was fired and the restoration of his retirement benefits, said his lawyer, Andrea Brenneke.

In a lawsuit, Wender, 42, had claimed the city and county violated his right to free speech by targeting him for his political beliefs. Wender, who holds a Ph.D., teaches full time at the University of Washington and has written and lectured extensively about police work and drug policy.
Read the whole story here.

Officer Wender's is a fellow member of LEAP (though I don't know him). Too bad I couldn't get wrongfully fired when I was a cop! But then that might not have been the wisest career move at the time.

Officer Wender's dissertation title was, I'm not making this up: "Policing as Poetry: Phenomenological and Aesthetic Reflections Upon the Bureaucratic Approach to Human Predicaments." Wow... that title is straight out an Onion parody on PhD dissertations! On the other hand, the line, "There is a tragic beauty in working the streets, [and] I miss the intimacy of making order out of chaos," is kind of poetic.

BART Shooting (III)--Justice?

I'm very interested in the concept of justice. Especially in situations where there really can't be any.

So let's just say that the police officer is put on trial and says, "I plead no contest. I didn't mean to do it. But I did. All I remember was that there was a large crowd yelling and a man was struggling. Next thing I know I hear a gunshot and look down and discover it was my gun. I didn't ever realize I was holding my gun. I feel terrible for the victim and his family. I'm sorry. I beg the court's mercy."

What should happen to the police officer? What is appropriate justice in a case like this?

January 12, 2009

The harms of immigration enforcement

There's a very interesting article in the New York Times today about how federal prosecution of immigration crimes is taking away from other prosecutions... like gun trafficking, organized crime, drug dealing, and white collar crime. That's not good law enforcement.
A senior federal prosecutor who has worked on a wide variety of cases along the border said that the focus on relatively simple immigration prosecutions was eroding morale at United States attorney offices.

“A lot of the guys I work with did nothing but the most complex cases — taking down multigenerational crime families, international crime, drug trafficking syndicates — you know, big fish,” said the prosecutor, who did not want to be identified as criticizing the department he works for. “Now these folks are dealing with these improper entry and illegal reentry cases.” He added, “It’s demoralizing for them, and us.
Read the whole store here. Click on the picture to the left to zoom.

S.F. police surveillance cameras report

"A long-awaited study of San Francisco's installation of surveillance cameras in high-crime areas shows that the effort fails in its primary goal of reducing homicide and other violent crime, but succeeds in reducing such offenses as burglary, pickpocketing and purse-snatching."

"The study found that the program, started by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2005, is hampered by a lack of training and oversight, a failure to integrate footage with other police tactics, inadequate technology, and what may be fundamental weaknesses of cameras as devices to stop violent crime."

Here's the whole story in The San Francisco Chronicle

7 Police Officers Hurt in NYC Gaza Protest

Hey, guys, check the violence at the door. Or at least don't take it out on police.
The story in the Times.
And the Daily News.

January 11, 2009

BART Shooting (II)

Here's a link to a The Raw Story and clearer video of the police-involved shooting of Oscar Grant on a Bay Area BART station. Thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog for the link.

In court, the officer’s actions will be judged by the standard of a “reasonable police officer.” It does not matter what the people shouting for the BART train felt. In fact, their shouting undoubtedly contributed to the general sense of danger the officer felt.

My guess... but I don’t know (let’s remember that none of us know; we weren’t there)... My guess is that the officer will be charged and criminally convicted of something like manslaughter that is based on negligence but not dependent on intent.

Is this a racial issue? Yes and no. No, police don’t go out saying let’s kill black people. In this situation, would white frat boys have been treated differently by police? Who can say for sure. It always depends on the situation. But it's very likely.

Anybody who thinks that police behavior isn’t affected by race and class is crazy. In different neighborhoods, both the the public and the police act differently. Don't think for a second that all police act like the police you know and see and deal with.

A few points on guns:

1) Police handguns (at least all the ones I know) do not have a safety.

2) Guns fire when the trigger is pulled. You may accidentally pull the trigger. But guns don’t “accidentally” fire. That’s important to remember. Your finger shouldn’t be on the trigger unless you’re taking aim and are seriously considering shooting. As a police officer, you are responsible for each discharge. Period.

3) In most jurisdictions, pulling a gun from the holster is not considered “use of force.” In my time on the street, I probably had my gun out of its holster every other shift. But I only pointed it at somebody two or three times. And I never pulled the trigger.

I was free to pull the gun out whenever I felt the need to. That was very often (say when searching a vacant building).

But when dealing with suspects, the gun is often just an intimidating bluff. If the suspect calls your bluff and nobody’s life is in immediate danger, you can’t shoot them. You have to holster up and pull out something you can actually use as a compliance device. In my case that was mace. And even that I only used once. (But I wasn’t on the street for long.)

Look, this shooting certainly looks terrible. Facts may come out that justify the officer’s action. But I doubt it.

January 10, 2009

True Confessions

A review written by me of The Thin Black Line: published in the Washington Post's Book World.

It's a collection of stories told by black law-enforcement officers. Not a great book, unfortunately. But the review is well worth reading:
THE THIN BLACK LINE: True Stories by Black Law Enforcement Officers Policing America's Meanest Streets.

By Hugh Holton.

Reviewed by Peter Moskos.

The stories police officers tell each other often don't amuse outsiders. While fellow cops laugh, an outsider is left thinking, "Is it funny that a man bleeds to death?" or "You took crutches away from a one-legged homeless man?" But police don't tell these stories to entertain outsiders. A story is more than a way to bond over a beer after work; it's an essential tool of the trade.

Stories provide sense to situations that lack it. Laughing at gore, the softness of human flesh and the misfortune of others isn't necessarily a sign of an uncaring cop. Gallows humor is a way to compartmentalize, to maintain one's sanity, to reserve empathy for situations in which emotion might be more productive.

Before I was a police officer, I loved the TV show "COPS." But after a few nights in a police car, I realized that "COPS" wasn't the real deal. The dialogue was stilted, on guard, seemingly self-censored for the more politically correct masses. The Thin Black Line, a collection of 28 oral histories of black law enforcement officers in U.S. cities from coast to coast, is similarly restrained. I'm certain these officers have great stories to tell. They just don't tell them here.
Read the whole review here.

January 9, 2009


Here's a very nicely produced little video against the war on drugs:

Maybe next time they can split the bill?

A Sheriff in Alabama was jailed for "blatant” violation of past court agreements that prisoners be properly cared for. It seems he had been, legally mind you, profiting from the leftover money allocated for prisoners' food (all of $1.75 per person per day!). Here's the story in the Times.

Bad economy = more traffic tickets

Traffic tickets go up when local government revenue falls. Is that a surprise? Not really. Here's the story in St. Louis Today. The study, by Thomas Garrett and Gary Wagner, quantifies it: "Controlling for other factors, a 1 percentage point drop in local government revenue leads to a roughly .32 percentage point increase in the number of traffic tickets in the following year, a statistically significant connection."

I don't quite understand when people complain about getting tickets. Whatever happened to "do the crime, do the time" (or pay the fine)? Especially when many of those complaining people are the same people who have no sympathy for poor (usually black) men who get arrested for minor drug crimes.

As long as poor black men are a gazillion times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than rich white men, I really wish that folks would stop bitching about how unfair traffic enforcement is. Yeah, it sure does suck when police decide to crack down on the illegal activity that you happen to think "isn't so bad."

The argument has been made that law enforcement should be random. I don't think it should be. But if it were, every law breaker would have an equal chance of getting caught. To be honest, it's not a bad goal.

Personally, I love traffic tickets. I wish even more were given out. And I wish the fines were higher. The city needs money and I don't want it to come from me. Just follow the law, right? And... oh yeah, I don't have a car.

BART Shooting

The big police news of the week is probably the police-involved shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant (a black man) at a Bart Station in Oakland. Riots have followed. I hate riots and those who justify them. Like there's any justification to bust up a hair salon called "African Braids".

And here's to Oscar Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson. She is quoted as saying: “I am begging the citizens not to use violent tactics, not to be angry.... You’re hurting people that have nothing to do with the situation. Please stop it, just please stop.” That's a very noble thing to say after your son is killed.

At the time of the shooting, I was just across the bay in San Francisco. I actually heard a few gun shots in Noe Valley. But not these shots.

There are tons of You Tube clips about this shooting. Just search for "Bart Shooting." This is probably the best report:

From what I've heard, this guy was unarmed. But it could very well be justified to shoot an unarmed man. I've also heard he was handcuffed. He wasn't (best I can tell).

Like it or not, police will assume you might be armed until you prove otherwise. Especially on New Year’s Eve when you hear the constant crackle of gun fire.

If you're pointing a gun at somebody and telling him to freeze and he's fighting and then his hands are under him and then he doesn't freeze and out from under his body come his hands holding something you think is a gun.... As the cop with the gun you either do nothing and get shot or shoot.

If police think you might be armed and you won't follow orders... well, it's on you. Sorry. It may not be right, but that’s just the way it is.

For the record, once I was brawling with and unable to control an unarmed handcuffed man (lesson: never arrest anybody when you're alone). Still I didn't shoot him.

I've heard that perhaps the cop thought he was Tasing the guy. I don't know. I've never held a Taser, but I don't think you can mistake a Taser for a gun.

But really, this shooting looks terrible. From the officer's reaction immediately after firing, it looks like he's surprised and didn't mean to fire. That makes it both a horrible mistake and a crime.

And whether or not the cop fucked up, and odds are he did, I hope all those schmucks yelling at the police from the train take a second to think about how they too contributed to this man's death.

Robbery suspect shot dead

I think the most amazing thing is that he kept the cigarette in his mouth the whole time! Pictures are here.

I'm back!

After a pleasant tour of Santa Cruz, San Francisco, a long and nice train ride to Chicago. 55 hours, but in a sleeper car. After all, what could be finer than dinner in the diner (actually 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts, and 3 lunches)? The train through Colorado is beautiful. But rural Illinois makes me the Chicago snob in me shudder.

Chicago is looking good. Deep down I love Chicago winter. At least as a visitor. 4 months is just too long.

Trips to many bookstores revealed that not one of them carried my book. Sigh.