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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 black chief who basically once called the entirety of Baltimore's black police 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. Despite her solace in prayer, I don't think it was God telling her. 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. You can probably find others 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.

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!

[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. Autumn Steele (This is rare case of an unarmed white person shot by a black officer.) Michael McCloskey.

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

And it's well worth watching Glenn Loury and John McWhorter talk about The List in a more recent Bloggingheads.tv]

July 13, 2016

Bloggingheads with Glenn Loury

Me on Bloggingheads with Glenn Loury.

Obama's Dallas Memorial Speech

I like Obama (as do most Americans). And I know he couldn't win over all cops with his speech in Dallas at the memorial for Officers Zamarippa, Ahrens, Krol, Smith, and Thompson. I knew, and this turned out to be correct, that even before the speech was done Obama haters would find a line or two in his 4,000 words that "proved" Obama hates cops/whites/Christians/America or whatever. And of course Obama hatred immediately came through my facebook feed from the CAPLOCK-RIGHT. So that crowd will never like Obama. But I listened to his whole speech while walking around San Francisco. The text is here.

I really wanted a speech I could hold over the haters and say, see, despite your ideological blinders, Obama said exactly the things you say he never said. Except Obama didn't.

Mostly I was disappointed that Obama implied a morale comparison between the death of Anton Sterling and the murder of these five officers at whose memorial he was speaking.
I see people who have protested on behalf of criminal justice reform grieving alongside police officers. I see people who mourn for the five officers we lost, but also weep for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this audience, I see what’s possible.

I see what’s possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment. All deserving equal respect. All children of God. That’s the America I know.
At this moment, I sincerely doubt the families of the slain officers give a damn about Anton Sterling. If you think those deaths are comparable, as some do, I respectfully disagree. But there's a time and place for everything. And this was neither the time nor the place. Obama mentioned Sterling and Castile's names more times than any of the murdered officers. This was a memorial service for police officers, not those killed by police.

That said, there were many good parts in Obama's speech that deserve highlighting:
Race relations have improved dramatically in my lifetime. Those who deny it are dishonoring the struggles that helped us achieve that progress.
That is quite a dig at protesters and lefties who deny the generally favorable arc of American history. And Obama keeps going:
When anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased, or bigoted, we undermine those officers that we depend on for our safety. And as for those who use rhetoric suggesting harm to police, even if they don’t act on it themselves, well, they not only make the jobs of police officers even more dangerous, but they do a disservice to the very cause of justice that they claim to promote.
Preach on, my president.
We also know what Chief Brown has said is true, that so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves.

As a society, we choose to under-invest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. [Ed note: Even in Texas, the library does not loan free Glocks.]

And then we tell the police, “You’re a social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor.” We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience; don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when periodically the tensions boil over.
That was probably the best part. Obama should have stopped right there.
Maybe the police officer sees his own son in that teenager with a hoodie, who’s kind of goofing off but not dangerous. And the teenager — maybe the teenager will see in the police officer the same words, and values and authority of his parents.
OK. But the kids-will-be-kids part is not the big problem of policing. That speaks to working and middle-class America. But what about the teenager who doesn't have parents? The kid who has nobody around of good values or authority? That is the problem. How are cops supposed to deal with armed young criminals? That's what I want the president to address. He didn't.

I wanted more from this speech. And I wanted the president to better honor the officers at whose memorial he was speaking.

July 8, 2016

Tone it down

I wrote this last night for CNN, about the massacre in Dallas:
Words have the power to inspire, inflame, provoke. Or else we wouldn't say them. When words inspire others to kill, however deranged those others might be, we must see the consequences.

When those on the political right speak against immigrants, Muslims or abortion, those on the left are quick and correct to observe that words inspire crimes of hate and violence. Similarly, when those on the left speak against police officers -- not just bad ones, but all police officers -- this, too, can have consequences.

No matter one's beliefs, we all need to call out extremism and hate, especially given American's absurdly easy access to guns. No matter how many good people have guns, they cannot always stop a bad person with a gun. An armed society is clearly not always a polite society, so we need to tone it down.

Police need to realize that some in their ranks make mistakes, both honestly and maliciously. This needs to be better acknowledged by those in law enforcement. But just as decent society does not hold every black, Muslim, or white Christian responsible for the murderous acts of a deranged few, it is a mistake to blame hundreds of thousands of police officers for the bad deeds of a few.
In my call for common ground and more civility, I received nasty emails or tweets from some A) protesters, B) cops, C) blacks, D) whites, and E) gun nuts. So I must be doing something right.

July 7, 2016

Philando Castile

This police-involved shooting is bad. And unlike the killing of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, I'm willing to call this one before the polls have closed.

This more recent shooting in Falcon Heights, Minnesota reminded me of Joseph Schultz. Schultz, you probably don't remember because you've never heard of him, got shot in the face in 2003 by FBI agents who were conducting a traffic stop on the wrong car. (Schultz is white, and apparently white people don't get bothered by being shot by police for no good reason.) I wonder how many traffic stops FBI agents have made before or since. The FBI agents got off. It was called an "unfortunate accident." No. It was worse than that.

Over in the twitter world -- which is like the real world but somewhat more poor, nasty, brutish, and short -- David Simon seems aggrieved (a burden he carries well) about my wait-for-the-facts position on Sterling in Louisiana but my willingness to rush to judgement in Castile's death.

I wrote:
(Actually, I'd bet Louisiana shooting not good either, but I'm not ready to call it yet. And I'm not a betting man.)
In a ever-so-slightly trolling manner, Simon prodded:
You don't need to see the beginning of the video? Or learn all the possibilities of reasonable suspicion and probable cause for car stop? Why not?
No, I don't. These shootings are very different. Because one involved a fighting man with an illegal gun.
In Sterling's death, I can imagine a scenario -- one that may or may not be true but is very much possible when three people with three guns are rolling around on the ground -- where the shooting was justified. What if Sterling was trying reach for a gun to kill somebody? My guess is this isn't what happened, but I don't know. (And neither do you.)

But it's not just that. Castile was a police-initiated engagement. That matters. The victim, judging from post shooting reactions, was compliant. There was no fight. It's a car stop, which limits the possibilities of motion. That's relevant less for the possible danger aspect than for me being willing to make some assumptions about what happened before the video. I have no idea what happened before Alton got shot and tased. I know very well how car stops work.

And I'll just keep mentioning this: Castile wasn't carrying an illegal gun.

Ah, responded Simon (foolishly trying to find flaw in my logic):
But video I saw was after shooting occurred. How do you ascertain all of the above other than witness credibility
Do you have video of the run-up to and shooting of victim in Minnesota? Maybe I saw something abbreviated.
There's no reason to think Castile was a threat or pointed his gun at the cops. The cop, later audio indicates, told Castile to reach for something, and he did. That's called being compliant. I am willing to give police the benefit of the doubt. But having done that, and also willing to admit I can't honestly conceive of a way the shooting of Castile was justified (unless there's really something big we don't know). And it's not the first time or even second time a compliant individual was shot by police.

But it's sometimes hard to explain nuance in 140 characters. So I left it at this:

And though I generally think race is overplayed as a factor in police-involved shootings (and geographic region and act of being a lethal threat underplayed). Honestly, in this shooting, with this cop, in this locale, I don't think there's a chance in hell Castile would have been shot had he been white.

July 6, 2016

Alton Sterling

Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police yesterday. Maybe you've watched the video. I have. And I'll tell you what: Other than a tussle and Sterling being shot, I have no friggin' clue what is going on. And I'm what they call a so-called "expert" on these things. So I really don't know how everybody else has it all figured out.

It might be a bad shooting. Honestly, it looks like a bad shooting. And even if justified, it's probably unnecessary in terms of the style of policing that led up to the shooting. Make note: yet another shooting precipitated by the A) failed use of a Taser, B) cops who don't seem very good at verbal persuasion, and C) cops not doing hands-on well. (Seriously, what's with the solo tackle?)

And yet all that said, I can't get over one pretty important detail: Alton Sterling was armed with a gun. An illegal gun. And cops very clearly saw that gun.

"Why did police have to shoot that man with a gun?!" is a question I am generally inclined to dismiss.

A witness to the shooting (who perhaps should have been doing something if he really was "two feet away") said Sterling had a gun in his pocket, but also that Sterling's hands weren't near that pocket. And I've read that police were called to investigate a complaint that from somebody who objected to having that gun pointed by Mr. Sterling in his direction. Yes, even in Louisiana that is a crime.

We don't what happened before when police approached Sterling. Seems relevant to the discussion. There might be other video. I'd like to know more.

And a big deal seems to made that Sterling was on the ground and shot in the back. To me this is a non-issue (except to note that police did seem to have the advantage). A fighting man, even on his belly, can reach for his gun. What if he does get his gun? Should police have to wait for him to point and pull the trigger before shooting? Shoot the bullet out of the air or something? Or reach under Alton before shooting, to avoid shooting him in the back?

I'm not saying this is a good shooting. I'm saying I don't know what happened. And neither do you.

[Update: the next shooting]

July 5, 2016

Low Police Morale (or: the more things change...)

Last night a police captain said:
I'm in the Department and had better keep my mouth shut. But I must candidly say that I have never known the Police Department to be in such a bad state as it is it right now. One day we receive one imperative order, and on the next another quite different, so that we hardly know what to do. And because we can't do everything we are criticized by everybody and abused by every ragamuffin. It's nothing but "orders," "orders." And so many orders make nothing but disorders.

However I'd better not blab -- what right have we to blab? -- we're in the Department. But it's enough to make one swear. As I said before, we're pitched into by newspapers and by everybody.
Every complaint against a policeman, no matter how foolish, must be taken down by the clerk and investigated, because he has been ordered to do so.
But then I won't say a word. I'm in the department. There may be a reporter about, so I'll shut up.
--"A Grumbling Police Captain." New York Daily Times, Feb 2, 1856 (lightly edited)

July 2, 2016

"My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard: A Mother Jones Investigation"

Shane Bauer researched and wrote an amazingly important article for Mother Jones. (It's a book really, at 35,000 words.) Bauer because a prison guard for a few months, took notes, and wrote about it. It can be that simple. You really should read all this. It's gripping. And big props to Mother Jones for doing real investigative reporting. He became a correctional officer so you don't have to. It's the best thing I've read all year:
If I were not working at Winn and were reporting on the prison through more traditional means, I would never know how violent it is. While I work here, I keep track of every stabbing that I see or hear about from supervisors or eyewitnesses. During the first two months of 2015, at least 12 people are shanked. The company is required to report all serious assaults to the DOC. But DOC records show that for the first 10 months of 2015, CCA reported only five stabbings. (CCA says it reports all assaults and that the DOC may have classified incidents differently.)
I know my field is police. But I wrote a damn book about incarceration. This book of mine, In Defense of Flogging, was favorable reviewed in The Economist and featured in Mother Jones, the Wall Street Journal, Time, the Atlantic and seemingly every other publication in the world. My idea even got me a fabulous speaking gig ever at Sydney Opera House's Festival of Dangerous Ideas!

(But no. It didn't sell at all. Why do you ask?)

Here's my point: I give a shit about incarceration in this country. Most people don't. And then those who do care are too busy bitching about police to notice the real harms -- evils even -- that are happening to literally millions of American, just out of sight in our jails and prisons.

Bauer doesn't go into great depth explaining mass incarceration. He doesn't offer massive policy solutions to the war on drugs. He doesn't hide behind sociological theory. What he writes is more basic and all the more powerful. Bauer describes what the hell happens in prison: how it operates, how guards survive, how prisoners survive. Guards are paid $9 an hour (yes, $18,000 a year, though it went up to $10 an hour) and go through minimal training and work 12-hour shifts in one of the world's shittiest jobs. And yes, of course corruption is rampant.

Bauer works at Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana, a medium-security prison. It's not the nation's best prison nor is it the worst (though it's certainly well below average). But you can't run a prison well. At least not on the cheap. Of course the inmates run the prison. But we knew that, right? And what goes on there -- to both workers and prisoners -- should cause more outrage.

Meanwhile the CEO of the for-profit CCA made $3.4 million dollars in 2015. (19 times the salary of the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.) CCA pinches every penny possible, because every dime not spent on labor or inmates is profit. They're in it for the money. (They also lobby for more prisoners and tougher immigration laws, which is essentially the same thing.)

[Keep in mind that private prison only hold about 8 percent of all prisoners, but there's something particularly horrible about the concept of profiting momentarily from human captivity.]

Because the prison in understaffed and guards poorly paid, they don't break up fights. So prisoners fend for themselves:
He asks us what we should do if we see two inmates stabbing each other.
We could try to break up a fight if we wanted, he says, but since we won't have pepper spray or a nightstick, he wouldn't recommend it. "We are not going to pay you that much," he says emphatically. "The next raise you get is not going to be much more than the one you got last time. The only thing that's important to us is that we go home at the end of the day. Period. So if them fools want to cut each other, well, happy cutting."
And this:
One day, I meet a man with no legs in a wheelchair. His name is Robert Scott. (He consented to having his real name used.) He's been at Winn 12 years. "I was walking when I got here," he tells me. "I was walking, had all my fingers." I notice he is wearing fingerless gloves with nothing poking out of them. "They took my legs off in January and my fingers in June. Gangrene don't play. I kept going to the infirmary, saying, 'My feet hurt. My feet hurt.' They said, 'Ain't nothin' wrong wicha. I don't see nothin' wrong wicha.' They didn't believe me, or they talk bad to me—'I can't believe you comin' up here!'"

His medical records show that in the space of four months he made at least nine requests to see a doctor. He complained of sore spots on his feet, swelling, oozing pus, and pain so severe he couldn't sleep. When he visited the infirmary, medical staff offered him sole pads, corn removal strips, and Motrin. He says he once showed his swollen foot, dripping with pus, to the warden. On one of these occasions, Scott alleges in a federal lawsuit against CCA, a nurse told him, "Ain't nothing wrong with you. If you make another medical emergency you will receive a disciplinary write-up for malingering." He filed a written request to be taken to a hospital for a second opinion, but it was denied.

Eventually, numbness spread to his hands, but the infirmary refused to treat him. His fingertips and toes turned black and wept pus. Inmates began to fear his condition was contagious. When Scott's sleeplessness kept another inmate awake, the inmate threatened to kill him if he was not moved to another tier. A resulting altercation drew the attention of staff, who finally sent him to the local hospital.
Of course you could always escape before you lose you limbs. It's not like the guards are paying attention:
Two weeks after I start training, Chase Cortez (his real name) decides he has had enough of Winn. It's been nearly three years since he was locked up for theft, and he has only three months to go. But in the middle of a cool, sunny December day, he climbs onto the roof of Birch unit. He lies down and waits for the patrol vehicle to pass along the perimeter. He is in view of the guard towers, but they've been unmanned since at least 2010. Now, a single CO watches the video feeds from at least 30 cameras.

Cortez sees the patrol van pass, jumps down from the back side of the building, climbs the razor-wire perimeter fence, and then makes a run for the forest. He fumbles through the dense foliage until he spots a white pickup truck left by a hunter. Lucky for him, it is unlocked, with the key in the ignition.

In the control room, an alarm sounds, indicating that someone has touched the outer fence, a possible sign of a perimeter breach. The officer reaches over, switches the alarm off, and goes back to whatever she was doing. She notices nothing on the video screen, and she does not review the footage. Hours pass before the staff realizes someone is missing. Some guards tell me it was an inmate who finally brought the escape to their attention. Cortez is caught that evening after the sheriff chases him and he crashes the truck into a fence.
It is dinnertime, but inmates haven't had lunch yet. A naked man is shouting frantically for food, mercilessly slapping the plexiglass at the front of his cell. In the cell next to him, a small, wiry man is squatting on the floor in his underwear. His arms and face are scraped with little cuts. A guard tells me to watch him.

It is Cortez. I offer him a packet of Kool-Aid in a foam cup. He says thank you, then asks if I will put water in it. There is no water in his cell.
This comes from my book on incareration, In Defense of Flogging:
Years from now, if we’re lucky, future generations will look back to this age of massive incarceration with bemused wonder, seeing it as just another unfortunate blotch on our country’s otherwise noble, democratic ideals. Either that or they will judge us as willing collaborators in an unparalleled atrocity of human bondage. Let us hope for the former.

10 shootings a day: This is the homicide problem

The Chicago Tribune has an excellent article that starts on the West Side [2 miles from this house]:
To understand Chicago's violence, start at Kostner Avenue and Monroe Street and walk west up a one-way stretch of graystones and brick two-flats. There on a boarded-up front door you'll see the red stain of gang graffiti. On the cracked sidewalk below lies an empty heroin baggie. Hardened young men sit on a porch.

This single block on the West Side — part of the Harrison police district — has been the scene of at least six shootings so far this year
My father grew up in this neighborhood, a mile away on North Avers Ave. The Greeks are long gone, of course. My father's family moved to Albuquerque in 1947. I checked Google street view for that block of six shootings:

These guys are totally not cool with the google car taking their picture.

Think they're up to no good?

Kind of cracks me up.

Here's the thing. Those guys you see. Them. There. In that picture right there above. Those guys in front of that fence? They are the problem! Sometimes it really is that simple. Seriously. It's not rocket science. There they are.

And police officers know that. But now what?

Chicago cops aren't stopping these guys anymore because, well, why should they? The ACLU sues cops and the Chicago Police Departments for stopping six black guys who are just minding their own business:
All this has led many officers to feel unsure about stopping anyone. Just this week, the president of the police union said many officers feel that "no one has their backs." Other veteran officers agree that Chicago cops are dispirited and have slowed down on the kind of proactive policing that can remove a gun or criminal from the street.
The makeup of Chicago's gangs has changed dramatically over the years. They once were massive organizations with powerful leaders and hundreds of members who controlled large chunks of territory. Now small cliques battle for control over a few blocks.
Experts also agree that personal disputes increasingly are playing a role in the violence. One veteran cop recalled with disbelief recently how a slaying he investigated boiled down to an insult over shoes.

Police also said so-called net-banging on social media fuels conflicts. Gang members have been known to post menacing videos on YouTube, showing them furtively entering rival territory, waving guns and issuing threats.
Ranking officers say reports from the field indicate more gang members are being caught carrying guns than in the past, a troubling trend that could explain in part the surge in shootings.
Morale plummeted as officers expressed concern about their every move being captured on smartphone video, a Tribune story reported earlier this year. Some have suggested that officers became hesitant to make street stops and arrests for fear of backlash.

Dean Angelo Sr., president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said street stops had plunged by 150,000 so far this year, but he blamed the more extensive paperwork that officers must fill out this year for every street stop.
Another veteran cop said the forms are so complicated that they take as long as an hour to fill out, keeping officers from street duty and leading many to reconsider whether a stop is worth the effort. It's affected the department's ability to gather intelligence on gangs, he believes.
The ACLU has disputed the notion that fewer street stops contribute to spikes in violence.
Of course they have. But the ACLU is wrong. Dead wrong. Look, if you want to argue that these young men shouldn't be stopped at all, fine. You agree with the ACLU (and don't live on that block or hear the gunshots). And the ACLU is right in criticizing police who stop people for the sake of making a stop.

As a cop you don't (or shouldn't) harass everybody walking down the block. You harass these guys on this block. And by "harass" I mean, within the law and constitution, make it little less fun for them to hang out in public and sell drugs. Yes, you as a cop give these guys a hard time. Is that fair? Yes. Because there have been six shootings on this block this year. Is it racist? No. Because these guys are the problem.

If you're a cop, you need to ask a bunch of questions 1) do you know these guy are slinging and shooting? 2) Should you stop these guys? 3) Are they committing a crime? 4) Are they a Broken Window? 5) What legal basis do you have to stop and frisk those guys?

[The answers are 1) get out of your damn car and talk to them, or at least watch them disperse in your presence, 2) yes, 3) no, and 4) yes. 5) very little at first, but you can build it, ask for a consent search, or conduct a Terry Frisk.]

You pull up to them. See what they do. You can crack down on this group by enforcing Broken Windows quality-of-life crimes. You get to know who they are. You can use your discretion and ticket them for something -- drinking, smoking joints, jaywalking, littering, truancy, spitting -- whatever it takes. You can arrest them when they can't provide ID (they can't, trust me). You can harass these criminals legally and within the bounds of the constitution. This is what police are supposed to do. It's how homicides are prevented. It's how some kids stay out of gangs. But if cops do their job, then we, society, need to support police officers against inevitable accusations of harassment, racism, and even discourteous behavior in their confrontations with these criminals.

As a cop you will not win the war drugs, but as long as drugs are illegal you need to fight the fight against pubic drug dealing. But we're telling cops not to do this. In Chicago cops are listening. And so are the criminals.