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by Peter Moskos

May 27, 2010

"Police dem a wicked n' a tief...soldier not so bad"

According to the papers, life in Kingston begins to return to normal. Dudus has not been captured. Until he his, seems like you'd have to call the whole operation a failure.

My quote of the day comes from The Observer's Twitter feed: "Dem say Dudus hold us hostage but it Bruce [The P.M.]. Mi wana go look for mi son. Mi don't know if 'in dead!"

cartoon from The Observer

May 26, 2010

Di President dat and anything possible wid him

I know it's wrong, but I'm kind of starting to root for Dudus. Of course I can't really root for cop killers, but this is one guy taking on two entire nations. And, at least for now, he's winning! Plus, the more I learn about Jamaica the less I want to root for the government. They're crooks. And not in a "throw-dem-bums-out-of-office" kind of way, but in a corrupt working-with-the-mobsters kind of way.

Well Dudus is still on the lamb and may have escaped the Tivoli Gardens dragnet. My quote of the day comes from the Jamaica Star: "Is like di man get a feeling and jus cut same time ... It look like di Babylon [security forces] dem a get information pon him cause di building weh him did inna a one a di first building dem weh dem search." But, kind sir, which way did Dudus go and how did he manage to get away? "Bway mi nuh know which way him tek eno but a di President dat and anything possible wid him."

Turns out that over the years the government has given Dudus's consulting company million of dollars (and nice to see one America newspaper finally get a reporter to Jamaica to cover this story). Dudus is part of the system. Dudus got paid to provide government services and keep the streets safe. And to some extend he did. Meanwhile he makes a lot of money. He reminds me a local ward alderman of 19th-century America (but with more drugs and bigger guns).

The Daily Gleaner reports:
Soldiers ... were engaged in a more than five-hour gun battle with the criminals.

One soldier was fatally shot during that battle while five others suffered gunshot wounds. Another soldier was injured in an undisclosed accident.

Medical sources [said] that the civilian death toll had climbed to 44, with the number of injured moving to 37.

The deaths included two men reportedly found in a neighbouring community with tags on their bodies, indicating they had been shot for refusing to participate in the fight to defend Coke.
Meanwhile... "An appeal was made by Health Minister Ruddy Spencer for gunmen within communities in the vicinity of the Kingston Public Hospital to cease from attacking hospital workers." Seems like a reasonable request.

I think it's a safe bet that in his area, Dudus would win any election. And the Jamaican government didn't have much a problem with him until America demanded they turn Dudus over. That's when all hell broke out. Dudus's father met the same fate and was killed (or died in a suspicious jail fire) before he could be turned over to America (and rat out police and government officials).

Once drug prohibition allows criminals to get rich and arm themselves, a massive crackdown doesn't work. It just causes violence and highlights the impotence and corruption of the supposedly legit government. It's kind of like Mexico. Except in Jamaica, unlike Mexico, the drug lords actually do seem to provide some kind of community service.

US Ends 'War on Drug'

Sounds like an Onion headline but it's real.

The Drug Czar himself said, "I ended the war."

You'd think this would be big news in America.

Did we win?

[thanks to Drug WarRant]

Stupid Drug Story of the Week

I read this stupid AP story and it set off warning bells in my head.


OK, the caps and exclamation points are mine, but you get the idea. It's a little strange because people who die from heroin overdoses rarely suspect it and often have needles in the arms. [I'm saying this in the most patronizing tone I can muster:] That's why it's called an accidental drug overdose and not a suicide.

But I couldn't articulate the bells in my head (they can are particularly unhelpful that way) until Jack Shafer of Slate wrote his response.

One constant prohibitionist line of argument is that drugs these days aren't like the drugs you were safely taking when you were a kid (the strange subtext being that it would have been OK to legalize drugs back then... but now they're too dangerous to regulate).

I love how Shafer points out that the AP story (headlined "Deadly, Ultra-pure Heroin Arrives in the US") seems to ignore not one or two but 19 AP stories over the past 25 years that all herald basically the same thing.

[It is, of course, particularly ironic to use the risk of dying from an overdose as an argument in favor of prohibition. The one sure thing we know would come from legal and regulated drugs is a guarantee of consistent purity. Heroin overdose deaths could drop to near zero if users actually knew how much they were taking. It really is that simple. But to get there we would have care more about the lives of heroin users more than we care about "sending a message."]

May 24, 2010

Oh, Jamaica

Gun battles seem to be the order of the day. Police officers have been killed. There's also looting. But a police spokesman says about the business district, "There was some shootings last night but some amount of calm has returned." Phew.

A state of emergency has been declared that basically give police carte blanche to do what they want. Prime Minister Golding says, "These are necessary measures to restore order to a community that is now threatened.... This will be a turning point for us as a nation to confront the powers of evil that have penalised the society."

Turning point in the drug war? Why do I not believe him?

Meanwhile one newspaper says the police have taken a "soft-handed approach." In the same paper the police commissioner is quoted as saying, "Do not hesitate to respond quickly and take decisive action when attacked by these criminals.... Police personnel have the full backing of the High Command to any response to protect themselves."

I wonder if they'll get Dudas. And I wonder if they'll get him alive. I'm sure many in government would much prefer him dead and silent than alive and talking.

My quote of the day comes from Deejay Mavado: "Ask them if me ever bring a rifle come give them, but at the same time me nah tell them not to defend themselves." That was at a peace meeting.

May 23, 2010

"He does what the government doesn't do for us"

Jamaica is a rough place. 2.7 million people and 1,500 homicides. That's a higher homicide rate than Baltimore... but lower than Baltimore's Eastern District. It's also dangerous for police, with 5 official line-of-duty deaths per year (though I suspect many more police die in less official ways).

Jamaican police are known to kill a lot of people, probably between 150 and 300 each year. Now that's getting tough on crime! Too bad it doesn't work.

Now I've never been to Jamaica and don't know what I'm talking about. But here's my take: You got the drugs. They're illegal. So you got the drug lords. They got the money. And then you got the government. But the government don't do anything for the poor folk. So the drug lords do a little and are pretty popular in certain parts. The drug lords are also linked to politics.

As Amnesty International puts it:
Gang leaders use the vacuum left by the absence of the state to control huge aspects of inner city people's lives -- including the collection of "taxes", allocation of jobs, distribution of food and the punishment of those who transgress gang rules.
Police? They're in the middle. They probably don't go into certain neighborhoods and many are bought off. But every now and then police do the right or wrong thing and get caught up in crime or trying to fight crime.

The latest is that because of US presure, police are trying to get a drug lord, Christopher "Dudus" Coke. He's wanted in the U.S. But this "don" isn't going down without a fight. The Harder They Come, baby (I just never get tired of Toots and the Maytals singing "Sweet and Dandy"): A police station torched. Gun battles. Barricades. A government offering to bus people to safety. A Prime Minister saying violence will not be tolerated.

Of course a lot of the people will fight for Dudus because Dudus keeps the streets safe (or safer than the police can) and Dudus dolls out some handouts, his version of government cheese, which of course is more cheese than the government gives out. Or, as one woman said, "We haffi support all a man like that because him a do what the Government naa do fi wi."

[abrasive sound of scratching needle-on-record]

Say what?! "Naa do fi wi"? Let's turn to Professor Harriott, political sociologist at the University of the West Indies (my dad did some research there years ago, had good things to say about it):
The women would have enumerated those benefits, being safe from rapists, etc. Plus there are other traditional benefits like free light, etc, so there are tangible benefits. ... It is a communal thing and there is a common identity -- one benefits simply by being a member of the group.... There are privileges and obligations, one of which is to protect. If the don makes money and doesn't let off, then the contract is broken. As long as the don upholds his end, there will not be a problem.
Ah, that's my language (I just knew an ivy-league education was good for something). But that quote isn't as much fun as my girlfriend:
Inna this area we feel safe, because man from outside and even dem whey live ya cyaan come in and rape we.... If any rape a gwaan, a when we go out a road and man try a thing. Up ya so nuh come een like a place like over Seaview [Gardens] where them don't have no don in charge and everybody do as them like. Up ya so we have a one man who run things and when anybody bruk the rules, we report him and the boss deal wid him.
Yesssss. Exactly. Does she know there's drug money involved? Of course a little of that goes on, but those guys don't make much money from that... "Lickle a dat gwaan, but dem man dey nuh mek much money offa dem things dey." Of course they don't.

I want to go to Jamaica. I won't understand a word!

Cartoon from the Jamaica Observer

P.S. Jamaica is not going to win the war on drugs either.

May 22, 2010

Police Chief Endorses Marijuana Legalization

Sometimes, as our drug war continues unabated, it's easy to forget just how much progress has been made in fighting prohibition.

Just a few years ago this kind of talk from an active police chief was inconceivable. It's the kind of talk that encourages honest debate. Which is just what we need because advocates of the drug war will not win an honest debate.

Meanwhile, a much more typical law-enforcement attitude can be seen in Texas: “We can’t just pull out... we are in it too deep to quit.” Too deep to quit. The logic is underwhelming. I'd prefer to stop digging.

Only in Baltimore

How come when I see a headline "Woman Loses Home Over $362 Water Bill" I just know it's talking about Baltimore? Where else could this happen? Sho 'nuff...

May 20, 2010

New Orleans opens Comstat to public

I think this is a good idea.

Off-Duty Chicago Cop Killed, killer shot by victim's father

Tragic story with an unusual twist in the Sun Times. Too bad a good man is still dead.

Draw Mohammed Day

It's Everybody Draw Mohammed Day! I love free speech. I also like South Park a lot more than I like religious zealots. I also like being able to write this without being arrested (or killed).

This is the cartoon that started it all:

Since I can't draw, I'm just going to reprint the drawings of others.

May 19, 2010

Immigrants Save Cities

Not about police, but this article by Richard Herman does summarize my position on immigration very well.

Workplace Conflict Scenarios

There's an article in the New York Times that isn't actually supposed to about police. An academic study asked participants how often they experienced eight "workplace conflict scenarios." These are:

* Someone treating them unfairly
* Someone blaming or criticizing them for something that wasn’t their fault
* Someone failing to do the work that needed to be done, or doing it in a sloppy or incompetent way
* Someone getting annoyed or angry with them
* Someone gossiping or talking behind their backs
* Someone teasing or nagging them
* Someone providing unclear directions about work they needed to do
* Someone making too many demands

Er, isn't this every day in your average police department?

Though maybe the study is about policing. It says that conflict is highest with men who held supervisory roles in their early 40s.

May 18, 2010

Dutch Tea Party

This is so bizarre I first thought it was satire: A robbery victim gets arrested and the robber gets fed wine and cheese! Classy. But it's not satire.

Trots op NL means "Proud of the Netherlands" and is a fringe right-wing political party that is playing on racism and fear of crime.

Is white people drowning in a swimming pool too subtle for you? "But I do like," writes my wife, "how because it's European, the white-people-about-to-drown image has a certain avant-garde-theater vibe to it."

The video is all in Dutch. If it makes you feel any better, I can't understand a lot of it, either. But the visual is good enough to get the message. Party leader Rita Verdonk is going to make the streets safe and you proud of the Netherlands. Some parts I can understand has her saying:
This is the Netherlands. It's not safe anymore on the streets.... This is what our daughters put up with everyday.
We're fed up! Government makes the wrong decisions for years and hands you the bill. Out with bureaucracy. No welfare for those who don't want to work. No more foreign aid. We need that money here for elderly and handicapped.
Too many regulations. Too much tax. Out with the tax agency. One tax rate for everybody: 25%!
Why it's a regular Dutch Tea Party!

My emigrant brother says, "The only unexpected thing is her pitch for one tax rate. Now it is 42% (or 52% for the wealthiest). The poorer have a few lower levels, too. I’m not sure how she will pay for her plans." Brother Andrew continues, "The funniest thing is the people that live in these (targeted) neighborhoods are not in fear of crime."

Even with all her happy Dutch supporters (the butch, the baker, the candlestick maker), Verdonk doesn't even pretend to hang around any racial or ethnic minority. I mean, even Republicans politicians like getting photographed with black people standing around, even if almost no blacks actually vote Republican.

"The only distinctively 'Dutch' people she can muster at the end," continues my wife, "is the chick in the silly white bonnet? You've got to admit, it's sort of flimsy in terms of national icons." Indeed. But Americans might have to be reminded that this is supposed to represent conservative Holland. To my American eyes, it looks like the start of a crazy liberal costume party in Portland or something. I mean, somebody even biked there on an orange bike!

School[craft] Readings

The NYPD Tapes, Part 2, by Graham Rayman in the Village Voice. (And a link to my comments on Part 1)


"Oh, You Mean Those Quotas" by Radley Balko.

"Those Schoolcraft Tapes" by Leonard Levitt.

May 17, 2010

Right Wing Lies (II)

Harry Moskos--journalist and streetcar advocate (also my uncle)--writes in the Albuquerque Journal, "Obama's Birthers Should Check Out My Daughters' Papers."
Our two daughters, like Obama, were born in Honolulu. We lived in Hawaii from 1963 to 1969.
Obama was born at Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children, the same hospital where our daughters were born.
Read the exciting truth about Barrack Hussein Obama's supposed native-born American birth!

May 15, 2010

Right-Wing Lies: The welfare of Larmondo "Flair" Allen

Am I really the only person who is skeptical enough to check the basic truth of emails before forwarding them to my 140 closest friends? I mean, it doesn't take too long to go to Snopes

The thing about mass-forwarded right-wing emails is that they are almost always never true. They're like the headlines in the supermarket tabloid Weekly World News. There might be a grain of truth. But the basic theme, the ultimate point, is a lie.

[Now liberals forward some lies too, but not as much. Certainly not as much since people stopped forwarding that damned "Save Sesame Street" email five years ago.]

What here's what bothers me deep down. I don't know if conservatives really care about the truth. It seems that for too many "faith" and "belief" and "firm conviction" are more valued attributes that the truth. I always think, "Gee, I might be wrong." Does that make me a wishy-washy French-loving lefty? Maybe. But if your faith and beliefs are built on lies, shouldn't that matter?

For the record: Obama was born in the U.S., Saddam Hussein was not behind September 11th, and the ACLU never tried to ban crosses from cemeteries. Just because you get an email or hear somebody who say something on talk radio doesn't make it true! Not even if they're spittle-flying mad when they say it!

So here's the latest, an obit about one Larmondo "Flair" Allen. Now this is indeed a gem (and there's nothing on Snopes).

This apparently murderous drug dealer is called "an entrepreneur." He was 25. He left eight brothers, five sisters, and nine children. Three of his daughters are named Larmondhall, Lamonshea, Larmomdriel.

So I snicker at all this. I have a sense of humor. So do most liberals (despite what many conservatives think).

But here's the text with the email. As usual with right-wing email, it's large and in many colors:
It took me a couple of minutes to get it, but imagine,
He's 25 and has 3 sons and 6 daughters
NINE welfare recipients collecting $1500 each.....
That equals $13,500 a month !!! Now add food stamps,
Free medical, free school lunches, on and on and on.
Now that, to me, is a real Entrepreneur.
Do the math, that's over $156,000.00 a year.
Anybody out there sittin' on their a** while reading
This message making that kind of money?

So the message isn't just to laugh at the obit and this loser (and I wouldn't be surprised if the writer of this obit was fully aware of the humor in using the word "entrepreneur"), but to blame the entire Obama communist liberal welfare state for everything that is wrong with America.

First of all (and I only went online for a few minutes to find this out--so I can't vouch with certainly that this is all true), the obit is from 2004. OK, but it's still true, I suppose.

But who the hell thinks that an able bodied man (much less one with "flair") gets $1,500 a month per child? That's what set off my B.S. alarm.

I mean, this is America. We don't have such a welfare system. And yet I firmly believe that opposition to this non-existent welfare system is what drives the world view of so many conservative Americans.

And don't get me wrong. I know there is much abuse of disability and what little welfare system we have. But you can't help the "deserving poor" (my wife grew up on food stamps some of the time) without some abuse from those trying to milk the system. So friggin' what? It's not like we're talking big bucks.

In all of 10 minutes online, I couldn't find details about the welfare benefits (now called TANF) in Louisiana. But let's take Texas simply because I could find it on line. This is federal aid. In Texas, a family of eight with one or two parents gets less than $500 a month. Total. For each additional person, add... $60. [see the update below for Louisiana stats.]

$1,500 or $60 per kid? It kind of matters.

There might be some people out there who might have a kid for an extra $60 a month. But there can't be too many. But in addition to TANF, there are also food stamps and sometimes some city and state aid is well. Still, it doesn't add up to much. And if "Flair" had a legitimate job (ha!), he could get some earned income tax credit, something I have received for more than one year of my working life.

But the straight-up federal welfare for you and your Texas family of nine kids? $6,636 a year. Live large, baby. Live large.

Update, August, 2011. This is from a reader's comment:
In Louisiana, this (now) single mother with 9 children would receive $512/month with a lifetime limit of collecting this for 5 years. She'd be able to get another $500/mo roughly in food stamps and probably get some housing assistance as well.

Now as far as Survivor Benefits from Social Security for the children, it depends on whether or not Larmondo had a regular job and paid into Social Security for at least 18 months. If he did, then they'll qualify for benefits. If not, no soup for the kids. Being generous and saying Larmondo spent some time workin' at McDonald's to get his 18 months in... his partner may be able to collect the one time payment of $255 for his death and 7 of the kids would be eligible for continuing payments until 18. Those payments would be kind of small though, a total of less than $500/mo. combined.
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In Defense of Flogging has been talked about on everything from Fox TV to NPR. Even The Blaze liked it. Atlantic Magazine listed me as one of the "Brave Thinkers" of 2011. It's a short book, a fun read, and, as Fat Albert used to say, "you might learn something before we're done."

Crime and arrests down in Baltimore

A good article by Ben Nuckols about crime in Baltimore and the good things happening under Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld.
In a blighted west Baltimore neighborhood, Lt. Ian Dombroski turns his unmarked police car around a corner and sees several men standing outside a liquor store. They scatter immediately.

Dombroski knows they're probably selling drugs, but he keeps driving. Five years ago, he said, officers who happened upon a similar scene wouldn't take such a selective approach.

"We'd all jump out, grab all the junkies, find out who had the drugs on 'em, lock 'em up, and that might be three or four drug arrests right there," Dombroski said. "And we'd go, 'Good, those are numbers.'"

But under Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, officers in one of the nation's most violent cities are no longer being told to beef up arrest statistics. The number of arrests has declined the past two years. Yet homicides and shootings are down, too -- to totals not seen since the late 1980s.

May 12, 2010

New York Black and Latinos Frisked 9 Times as Often as Whites

Ninety percent of those stopped by the NYPD are black and latino. So says the New York Times. Is this a cause for concern? I don't know. Something certainly bothers me when my male black and hispanic students complain of being stopped by the police often (and often rudely stopped).

But there is one touchy and politically incorrect fact that seems remiss not to mention: nine-in-ten murderers in New York are black or hispanic (just seven percent are white) [here's a previous post].

Police go where the violent crime is. And if you work in a neighborhood were the robbers and murderers are black or hispanic, you stop black or hispanic people.

Given the raw data, the racial disparity doesn't seem to be the problem. But what do I know? I don't get frisked. I'm white and live in a safe neighborhood.

The questions we should be discussing is whether or not aggressive stop-and-frisks are an effective crime prevention strategy. I like the idea that criminals are leaving their guns at home rather than risk being stopped, frisked, and arrested by the NYPD. Is that a result of stop-and-frisks? I don't know. Do the crime prevention benefits outweigh the negative community interactions with innocent people? 575,000 stops yielded 762 guns. That doesn't seem like a great hit rate to me.

If frisks are done because officers really have reasonable suspicion that a suspect is armed, go for it. But if officers are simply trying to meet "productivity goals" (read: quotas), something is very wrong.

Mexican drug raid wins drug war!

In 2007, Mexican and US drug agents raided a home in Mexico City. Over $200,000,000 in cash was found. Lot's of other stuff, too. Like tigers and gold guns!
It's pretty impressive. I put the pictures in a PDF file.

It's not recent, but I just got an email with the pictures from a student. Unlike a lot of forwarded email sent around, this one is true.

Amazing how, in hindsight, this one raid really changed the tide in the war on drugs. I will be the first to admit that I was wrong. I mean, since this raid in 2007, drug barons have finally gotten the message that drugs simply do not pay.

Rule of law has returned to Mexico and police there can now wear their uniform with safety and pride. The economy has improved and fewer illegal immigrants are forced by drug-war violence to come to the US.

Hell, even in the US drug supply has been so squeezed that every measurable indicator shows that drug use has plummeted.

Best of all, the Cubs won the World Series last year!

Did I almost mention that the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft-boiled eggs?
There's a lake of stew and of whiskey too
You can paddle all around 'em in a big canoe.
I'll see you all this coming fall in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

May 8, 2010

Off Duty Balto Officer Cut in Harford County

The story in the Sun.

The guys who attacked him, in what seems to be a case of road rage, were quick to drop the N-Bomb and talk about hanging Detective Cook, who is black.

For just being cut in the eye, give Cook credit for being calm on professional on the phone.

Officers move from the city in part so they don't have to carry their gun. That's not always a smart choice.

May 6, 2010

The NYPD Tapes

A reader pointed me to this story in New York's Village Voice.

In the 81st Precinct in New York City, a cop, Schoolcraft, secretly recorded roll call and other happenings over the course of the year.


Though all he seems to show is something we all should already know. In the NYPD, everybody is under intense pressure to produce good "stats" (arrests and citations) and reduce bad stats (crime numbers). I suppose the good of the tapes is the department may finally have to stop trying to say with a straight face that officers are not under pressure to meet arrest and citation quotas. Compstat has done a lot of good. But the impact of a stat-driven culture on the incoming rank-and-file is not very productive.

The article, which is a bit too long (though I look forward to reading the next installment!), makes some claims I strongly disagree with. For instance, responding officer at a scene certainly has a responsibility to judge the validity of a victim's claim. Police patrol officers are not just report writers. And detectives who claim otherwise are doing a grave disservice to the majority of police officers.

Overall, reading the story and listening to some of the recordings, I couldn't help but think what good leaders these were. The men and women leading roll call look out for their troops, warn them of bureaucratic nightmares, and try an instill a strong work ethic.

And some of the stories just make me nostalgic for my policing days. The sergeant who deadpans the danger of mine shafts in Bed-Stuy? What a progressive pedagogical approach (I'm trying to use fancy words here) to help officers not get in trouble for failing to carry... whistle holders. Yes, in the police word, where you put your life on the line almost every day, if they want to, they can bang you for sh*t like not carrying a whistle holder. (Just FYI, I had previously never heard of a whistle holder. In Baltimore, I managed to hold my whistle just fine without a dedicated whistle holder. The whistle, it turns out, makes an excellent key chain for the easy to lose but important to have handcuff key.)
Nobody's got your whistle holder, and half of you don't have your whistle. That's unacceptable. When I fall down the mine shaft, I'm the only one that's going to be able to call for help. The rest of you are going to have to fire off your gun, and they'll give you a [reprimand] for that.
I love this guy!

And is this really too much to ask?: "You want to draw penises, draw them in your own memo book." Hard to argue with that request.

But I think the only reason we didn't "cock" memo books in the Eastern was because Baltimore cops don't have memo books. (Is there a point to memo books except creating more paperwork?) Makes me think of my buddy who reads this blog (yeah, I'm talking about you). He would wait for any new LT to finish roll call with the very decent question, "Does anybody have anything?" To which he would answer with unbridled glee, "I have this horrible burning sensation when I pee!"

Cracked me up every time.

May 5, 2010

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and taser!

Damn Yankees. The Orioles lost. It was kind of a mismatch. But the O's did at least make things interesting by getting the tying runs on base in the 9th.

There was some minor scuffle near me that resulted in many crying children. Oh, nothing like the bleachers in Yankee Stadium to make me want to root against the Yankees even more! During this curfuffle, the bleacher crowd shifted in chant from "Ass-hole" to (with the cadence of, "Let's-Go-Yan-kees"): "Use-The-Tas-er!" I was amused.

Crowd stampede at Netherlands WWII ceremony

I'm not a big fan of crowds. Mobs do stupid things--both intentionally and through panic. I always like having an out.

Interestingly, I've always felt a little more claustrophobic in Dutch crowds. I think they're used to less personal space so they get tighter together (which is also a sign of their general civility). The Dutch also sometimes seem a little less willing to move out of the way in crowded bars (and yet I will get to the bathroom.). Though it might be just that the Dutch are so damn tall. I'm 5'9". I feel short in Amsterdam; I can't see over anybody! (In Mexico, though, I feel like a giant.)

My mom was in this crowd. There's English in that link from the BBC. Here's the Dutch:

My mother wrote this:
Today is Remembrance Day for the victims of WWII. Queen Beatrix and other dignitaries lay wreaths at the National Monument on Dam Square. The city of Amsterdam observes two minutes of silence at 8PM. [Actually I think it's the whole country and it's a very respectful and moving tradition.]

I biked over there, locked my bike a short distance away and was standing in front of a building from where we could see the huge screen and follow the event. It is a moving experience to be present at this kind of gathering, I don’t think I have ever witnessed this huge amount of people gathered anywhere.

Just after the moment of silence, a very loud shriek could be heard not that far away from where I was standing. Immediately, a huge amount of people started to move away from where the sound had come from. It was scary when this mass of people attempted to run away from the shout. It had not reached the stage of panic. I was somewhat protected/cushioned by three rows of people in front of me, but I could easily imagine what could have happened once the mass of people had really been in motion. Someone shouted in a very comforting voice “
rustig” for people to remain calm which they did in my immediate area. Someone next to me remarked that he did not hear a bomb go. Just the thought of it. Moments later I could see police officers leading a person away and things returned to normal. An hour later, once I was home again, I listened to the news on the radio. It was reported that fifty persons had been injured.

May 4, 2010

Good Use of Taser

I don't think I've ever used that headline before.

I don't like Tasers, generally. But if you run from police and can't be easily caught? I got no problem.

It's tasing in situations of unarmed passive non-compliance that I strongly object to.

I'm going to the Yankee game tomorrow. Go O's!

Arrest made in Times Square bomb

A US citizen from Pakistan. The story in the New York Times.

May 3, 2010

This one is just our crumbling infustruction

From the Times:
New York authorities are investigating a manhole fire that startled passers-by just a few blocks from where a Times Square car bomb failed to detonate over the weekend.

A spokesman for the Con Edison utility says smoking underground electrical cables caused the fire Monday afternoon.

Eyes on the Street Help Defuse Times Square Car Bomb

Kudos to the NYPD and the bomb squad for doing their job well. That work is no joke.

In her wonderful The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote, "It does not take many incidents of violence to make people fear the streets. And as they fear them, they use them less, which makes the streets still more unsafe." Jacobs talked about "eyes on the street," the idea that strangers are not the problem but an essential public-safety asset. In the city, it's the deserted street that is dangerous. But in our overly fearful society, this idea is often forgotten.

Of course Jacobs was talking about "normal" crime and not terrorism, but the lesson is the same:
First, we must understand that the public peace—the sidewalk and street peace—of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary though they are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves.
Think of it, in this modern hi-tech age of gadgets and gizmos, what we saw was a scene (minus the SUV) straight out of 1875: a street vendor telling an officer on a horse about a crudely made bomb. There is a lesson in this; there's no substitute for eyes on the street and good old-fashioned policing.

And yet...

New York City, at least until yesterday, has been trying to push street vendors off the streets under the guise that vendors are a public safety hazard.

Just the other day, the Daily News complained in an editorial that:
Second-rate peddlers wrapping themselves in the First Amendment do not have unfettered license to set up shop in busy pedestrian thoroughfares.... These folks are freeloaders who assert the right to sell what they want, where they want, on the grounds that they're expressing themselves.
In a few key park spots where New Yorkers and tourists tend to gather, a suffocating stream of vendors has descended like flies on a horse.
In this case that fly helped stop an explosion and that horse had a police office riding on it. Of course the vendor could have been a tourist and the tourist could have tried to flag down a passing police car. But he wasn't and he didn't.

Too many cities say that horses are too expensive when we need that law enforcement money to, you know, fight terrorism.

And this vendor may be a military veteran (vendors always claim to be veterans because being a veteran grants them privileged vendor status). But what if he weren't? What if he were illegal? Most street vendors here are illegal. I'd bet my house that the churros vendor on the N/R/W subway platform at 59th and Lexington is three times illegal: vendor, food seller, and illegal immigrant. But by standing alertly on that platform, she sees more than any passenger (and the churros ain't bad). But would she go to police if she saw something? I hope so. But I wouldn't place even money on that bet.

"The police are the public and that the public are the police," wrote Robert Peel back in 1829 when he invented the very concept of modern police, "The police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen." The more we get away from that ideal, the more dangerous our world becomes.

Police are not supposed to be government agents of fear and repression. In the fight against terrorism, local police can't be jack-booted thugs. The more things we criminalize, the more groups we push underground, the more people fear interaction with the police... the more likely the next bomb will blow.