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by Peter Moskos

May 31, 2011


I not a fan of arbitrary grammar rules. And now I'm going to bore you with one.

I don't like rules for rules' sake (eg: split infinitives, ending sentences in preposition, etc.) Along with being based in some bizarre Latin-lover's 19th-century wet dream, such rules get in the way of style. Rules are supposed to clarify and--to a lesser but still important extent--tell you how not to sound stupid.

I've always wondered about the old less/fewer distinction. People generally say less for everything. I couldn't figure out if it matters. As I understand it, "fewer" is for things you can count (like anything in the plural); "less" is for everything else. Fewer liberals; less intelligence. Because you can say "two liberals," but you can't say "two intelligence." Yeah, "less liberal" has a different meaning that "less liberals" (when it should be fewer), but so what? There's still no ambiguity.

Once again, Vice Magazine comes to the rescue. And this time not with nudity and/or slutty American Apparel ads. From the ever important Department of Dos & Don't comes this Grammar Don't:
Momentarily sidestepping the crotch shorts, public writing project, and twin loneliness mascots, nothing says “I know less than three black people” more than a Coors Light hat that was pre-tattered at the time of purchase.
Really? How much do three black people know?


"We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national surveillance state!" As told to us by a cartoon ("This Modern World" by Tom Tomorrow).

May 30, 2011

Tuesday One-Two Punch (or lash)

The Blaze (that's Glenn Beck)
and Metro (that's subway). Metro is new material.

Oh, and there's a third punch. Let's call it an uppercut. The Takeaway (National Public Radio) 7:45 AM (which is really the worst possible hour of the day for me to do anything. If it were any early, I'd just stay up all night and be much happier.

May 29, 2011

Flogging on CNN

I'll be on CNN, Sunday, from 7:30 to 7:35pm (Eastern Time) with Drew Griffin. I get to sport the suit I got made for me in Thailand. I'll probably even wear a tie. If you miss the broadcast, don't worry, you'll be able to see the same suit again the next time I'm on TV.

May 28, 2011

"You Rascal"

I like when Clarance Page calls me a "rascal"! He writes in the Chicago Tribune:
When Peter Moskos' new book landed on my desk, I wasn't sure if it was going to be a treatise on crime and punishment or some sort of kinky sex manual.

Its title: "In Defense of Flogging."

You rascal, I thought. Moskos, a former Baltimore cop who teaches law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, knows how to catch our attention.

It's not giving away too much to say that Moskos doesn't really want to bring back flogging. But he doesn't like our correctional system, either. And as long as we insist on fooling ourselves with well-meaning fantasies like the "war on drugs," he says, nothing is going to get better.

There already are about 14 gazillion other books that will tell you that. So Moskos uses the horror of flogging to focus our minds on the greater horrors that have resulted from the prisons that were invented to replace the lash.
Against that backdrop, Moskos' startling invitation to reconsider the whip, cane and cat-o'-nine-tails doesn't sound so preposterous. At least it gets us thinking.
Read the rest here.

A Barbaric Hoax?

Mansfield Frazier write in The Daily Beast:
At first glace, the title of Peter Moskos’ new book, In Defense of Flogging, strikes you as a barbaric hoax being perpetrated by some sort of right-wing ideologue or kook. In fact, it initially appears to be an idea so outrageous, so provocative, as to not even rate a second thought; something to immediately be dismissed out-of-hand. Indeed, how can anyone—who considers themselves the least bit humane—even consider such an outdated form of punishment as flogging, even for the most serious and monstrous of law breakers?

But Moskos, an assistant professor of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and a former Baltimore cop to boot, is painfully serious (pun intended). And the timing for his book could not be better, considering a recent Supreme Court decision that upheld a ruling ordering California to release about 46,000 inmates in an attempt to relieve its overcrowded prisons.
Moskos writes that both ends of the political spectrum should look approvingly upon flogging as a substitute for prison. “If you’re a conservative, flogging holds appeal as efficient, cheap, and old-fashioned punishment for wrongdoing… it’s a get-tough approach… and nothing is tougher than the lash. If you’re a liberal and your goal is to punish more humanely, then you must accept that the present system is an inhumane failure.”

In Defense of Flogging forces the reader to confront issues surrounding incarceration that most Americans would prefer not to think about. While Moskos makes a compelling moral argument for allowing those convicted of crimes to be given a choice, he might have been better served if he had made it a financial argument instead. Most American taxpayers will willingly allow someone to be flogged into insensibility if it means they’re going to save a few bucks.
Speaking about timing, I spend about four pages in my book talking about that Sheriff Joe Arpaio, specifically how his "get-tough" policies don't work. So that S.O.B. better not quit on me! (I do begrudgingly applaud him for at least coming up with some ideas that are liked by inmates--and yet the same ideas are often derided by liberal critics as cruel and barbaric!)

May 27, 2011

Corporations are people too!

Explain something to me.

Campaign donations aren't supposed to buy politicians, right? Because that would be bribery. But corporations give money for "access" or some other BS like that, right? And you can't limit the money they give to politicians, because, say the courts, corporations are people too.

And corporations are usually legally bound to maximize profits for their shareholders, right? So any donation from corporation to politician must therefore be shown to increase the corporation's profits. Corporations don't spend millions on lobbyist because they want to do a public good through tax reform. So say a company gives a million dollars. Then they must get more than million dollars back in legislative action or inaction. If not, they wouldn't be fulfilling their legal obligations to their shareholders.

You give politicians money, they do something, and you get your money back and then some. This is just bribery, right? Except it's legal. Hell, it's more than legal: it's constitutionally protected.

I am missing something?

Call me old-fashioned...

...But something always bothers me when police break down your door and kill you. Doesn't seem necessary.


The tactics here are terrible. Why are they standing in front of the door? I wouldn't answer a call for a lost lolcat without standing off to the side. In fact, even today, 10 years later, I still do.

And what's with that last extra shot? "Pop." Did he flinch?

I've also read that they didn't let paramedics in for a while because the scene wasn't secure. The whole point of entries like this is to make the scene secure. Or is it just to play with toys.

I have no idea what kind of guy the dead guy was. And to some extend I don't care. If was so potentially dangerous, why wasn't it no-knock raid? And if it wasn't, why not ring the doorbell? As the old joke goes, "It can't hurt."

When the man inside his own home was shot by police officers who busted down his door, the home owner (OK, maybe he was a renter) was holding a gun. The safety was on. Now I'm not a fan of guns, but if I still had one and somebody busted down my door, damn right I would be carrying it. And my gun didn't have a safety.

Further update: This is from The Agitator:
This isn’t like watching video of a car accident or a natural disaster. This doesn’t have to happen. You’re watching something your government does to your fellow citizens about 150 times per day in this country. If this very literal “drug war” insanity is going to continue to be waged in our name, we ought to make goddamned sure everyone knows exactly what it entails. And this is what it entails. Cops dressed like soldiers breaking into private homes, tossing concussion grenades, training their guns on nonviolent citizens, and slaughtering dogs as a matter of procedure.
The action starts at around 6 minutes into the video.

And please keep in mind, it's not like we're suddenly winning the war on drugs because of these tactics.

"I swear to uphold..."

When I was a cop, I rather enjoyed swearing to uphold the constitutions of the United States and Maryland. It seemed like quite an honor. (Even if the actually oath was done very matter-of-factly in some cubical by a woman who didn't seem to care. And honestly, I've never read the Maryland Constitution.)

Oath Keepers is an organization set up to persuade America's police officers and soldiers to refuse to carry out unconstitutional orders. Fair enough. But somehow it's considered controversial and right wing.

There's an interesting interview with the founder, Stewart Rhodes, in Reason magazine.

What about the children!?!

Anybody who hears hears crap like "200,000 to 300,000 US youth are victims of sex trafficking" and believes it needs a tune-up in the department of B.S. detection. I don't know why people love to believe made up stats and then discount real ones that matter (eg: poverty, prison, homicide).

One headline read, "HUMAN TRAFFICKING INDUSTRY THRIVES IN PORTLAND METRO AREA." But when the reporter dug deeper:
She soon found an even bigger story: none of it was true.... In short, every single statistic that advocates and politicians had used to justify Portland’s label as a “hub” of child sex trafficking fell apart.
In City Pages, Nick Pinto looked at the methodology behind the "stats." It's a how-to in how not to do research. For instance, in trying to determine the scope of underage prostitutes, they looked at pictures of ads in the back of local newspapers. And then they guessed the age of girls in the picture. As to prostitution's increase, they counted online classifieds featuring "young women" over time. More adds meant more child prostitution. Then they threw terms like "random sample" and "balanced by race and gender" in the mix. Are you kidding me!?

Of course it's not like the people coming up with these numbers care about the truth ("think of the children!"):
It's now clear they used fake data to deceive the media and lie to Congress. And it was all done to score free publicity and a wealth of public funding.

"We pitch it the way we think you're going to read it and pick up on it," says Kaffie McCullough, the director of Atlanta-based anti-prostitution group A Future Not a Past. "If we give it to you with all the words and the stuff that is actually accurate--I mean, I've tried to do that with our PR firm, and they say, 'They won't read that much.'"
Despite these flaws, the Women's Funding Network, which held rallies across the nation, has been flogging [ed note: how dare they besmirch the good name of flogging!] the results relentlessly through national press releases and local member organizations. In press releases, the group goes so far as to compare its conjured-up data to actual hard numbers for other social ills.

"Monthly domestic sex trafficking in Minnesota is more pervasive than the state's annually reported incidents of teen girls who died by suicide, homicide, and car accidents (29 instances combined)."
The first defense of lies is common sense. Education comes a close second. And perhaps third is not taking moral ideologues too seriously.

Ultimately the answer to limiting the harms from prostitution is, oh, let me wind up the old Victrola and play that broken record: "legalize and regulate [skip] 'galize and regulate [skip] 'galize and regulate [skip] 'galize and regulate...." Man, where do I find these 78s?

May 26, 2011

Unarmed cops taken on by knife-wielding man

A friend sent me this link which shows a bunch of unarmed cops confronting (and running away from) an armed suspect. Had this happened when I was a cop, I would have shot him. No doubt. And slept well. But these cops couldn't shoot because they don't have guns. And in the end everybody got home alive. Interesting.

Reasonable Doubt

An NYPD officer were acquitted of rape today. Did I think he's guilty? Yeah, I do. But I'm not surprised he was acquitted. (He and his partner were found guilty of lesser charges and promptly fired.) In fact, last week I predicted this exact outcome (but just to my class... you'll have to take my word). Why? because even I had doubt. You might even say "reasonable doubt." Apparently the jury thought similarly. And that's enough to acquit.

It's not easy to convict in this country. Especially if the accused has a good lawyer. Whether that's good or bad, you decide. But that's the way it is. And one reason it's hard to convict police officers is that police know all too well how to play this game we call justice.

I first had doubt after I heard the whole so-called "confession" tape, a secret recording the woman made while confronting the ex-cop outside a police station [which I can't find a link to, but I know it's out there because I heard it... can anybody find me the link?]. It's hardly a confession at all. In some ways, it's consistent with an innocent man simply trying to appease a potentially hysterical woman at his place of employment. Yes, he said he wore a condom. But it was only after a longer talk where he denied, repeatedly, ever having sex. She said she was only concerned with the consequences of unprotected sex. So finally he tells her what she wants to hear: he says he wore a condom. It's not hard to believe that any innocent man would say the same thing in the same circumstance.

Of course a guilty man might have said likewise. But that's the point about doubt. You don't have to believe somebody is innocent to vote to acquit.

Do guilty people get away with crimes? All the time. A similar but far greater travesty of justice happened when a burglar was later caught on tape admitting to rape. He too was acquitted (stupidly, the jury wasn't allowed to know he had a history of burglary, which was a pretty key piece of evidence with regards to him being in the house!)

And of course being convicted of something and loosing your job is hardly getting away scot-free. But it's usually only big headline news when it happens to police (for instance, how much did you hear about the case I linked to above? Exactly). Don't like it? Blame the criminal justice system. That's what police do all the time.

[Hell, you can even blame O.J. Simpson. His trial set the bar way to high in terms of conclusive "scientific" evidence.]

[Update: Here's a story about the jurors' decision. I'm with this alternate juror: “I definitely thought some funny business went on.... Is it possible they raped her? Sure.” But that's not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.]

May 25, 2011

"Don't laugh: He makes a convincing case"

In Defense of Flogging reviewed (favorably!) in Bloomberg and today's S.F. Chronicle. They "get it":
And at just over 150 pages of clear, smart and highly readable prose, Moskos's sharp little volume has a potential audience far beyond the experts who dutifully slog through most tomes like this. It's the kind of item that could be stacked next to a bookstore's cash register. Think about it for a Fathers' Day gift.
I couldn't have said it better myself!

Read the whole review.

May 24, 2011

Where does that $50,000 go?

California spends more than $50,000 per prisoner. A few years ago, back when it only costs $49,000 to lock a person up for a year, Mother Jones did a breakdown of where that money goes:
Security: $20,429

Medical services: $7,669

Parole operations: $4,436

Facility operations: $3,938

Administration: $2,871

Psychiatric services: $1,403

Food: $1,377

Education: $687

Records: $513

Vocational education: $289

Inmate welfare fund: $282

Clothing: $152

Religion: $53

Activities: $23

Library: $23

Transportation: $15

Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics; California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; National Association of State Budget Officers
And just think, if we cut all those "activities" and "libraries" we give to prisoners, we would be spending only $49,954 per prisoner per year.

"Give offenders a choice–prison or FLOGGING; (he's serious)"

From CNN's "In the Arena":
ONLY ON THE BLOG: Answering today’s OFF-SET questions is Peter Moskos.
Moskos’s new book is entitled, “In Defense of Flogging.”

The Supreme Court has affirmed a federal order telling California to reduce its overflowing prison population, a situation the majority said "falls below the standard of decency." California now has to figure out how to reduce the population by more than 30,000 prisoners. From your point of view, why does the prison system in the U.S. continue to fail?

Prisons fail because they don’t do what they were designed to do: cure criminals. And as long as we insist on fighting an idiotic “war on drugs,” nothing is going to better.
Read the rest of the Q and A here.

Crime Down in Baltimore

Homicides in Baltimore dropped from 238 to 223, giving the city its lowest homocide rate since the late 1980s. Baltimore is now fifth in murders, after New Orleans, Flint, St. Louis, and Detroit. The Baltimore Sun has the story.

May 23, 2011

Highway Robbery

From over at The Agitator.

It's reached the point where these "drug war" police don't even pretend to be anything but money-hungry mercenaries.

May 20, 2011

Makes flogging look better and better

Louis Theroux visited a Miami "mega-jail." (You can watch a bunch of his other shows on youtube--I'm quite fond of them.)
For a bespectacled, peace-loving Englishman, there can be few places less congenial than a berth on the sixth floor of Miami main jail.

The place has to be seen to be believed. Up to 24 inmates are crowded into a single cell, living behind metal bars on steel bunks, sharing a single shower and two toilets.

Little of the bright Miami sun filters through the grilles on the windows. Visits to the yard happen twice a week for an hour. The rest of the time, inmates are holed up round the clock, eating, sleeping, and going slightly crazy.

But what is most shocking is the behaviour of the inmates themselves. For reasons that remain to some extent opaque - perhaps because of the bleak conditions they live in or because of insufficient supervision by officers, maybe because they lack other outlets for their energies, or because of their involvement with gangs on the outside, or maybe from a warped jailhouse tradition - the incarcerated here have created a brutal gladiatorial code of fighting.

They fight for respect, for food and snacks, or simply to pass the time.
In some cells inmates boasted that they had a policy of "mandatory rec" for new inmates - meaning any inmate coming into the cell had to fight (or "rec") for a bunk, unless he was known to other inmates in the cell, in which case he might be granted a reprieve.
And without privacy, sharing a single shower, many of the men had lost their sense of the normal social barriers - they were around each other continuously, using the toilets, speaking to loved ones on the phone, and, presumably, indulging in other physical functions. And when we were around them, the same rules applied to us - many of them, living like animals, had lost their grip on social norms.
Another inmate, Rodney Pearson, known as Hot Rod, told me he'd been inside for several years awaiting trial. Prosecutors wanted to give him the death penalty.

I asked him if, by some quirk of fate, I'd been arrested and sent to their cell, a bespectacled Englishman with a college education who was clearly not cut out to fight, they might let me off the "mandatory rec". The answer was an emphatic "no".
One of the corporals said he thought the county might be happy to make reforms as long as I was happy to stump up the $600m for a new building.
Keep in mind that these men have not been convicted of any crime (though admittedly most are guilty as charged). And almost all will one day be released, more f*cked up than ever. Can one think of better case In Defense of Flogging?

Alphabet City Memoirs

When I re-posted those pics of a Baltimore crack house, I found one of the comments so interesting I asked the commenter to turn it into a guest post. Eddie Nadal, retired NYPD, graciously agreed. These are his words:
I recently visited the Lower East Side in New York, the same LES where I was born, where my grandma lived for over fifty years, and where I worked as a cop for seven years in the 1980s. I felt like I'd stepped into an alternate universe. The Lower East Side that I knew back then was, to put it plainly, a drug-infested hellhole.

At the first "feeding time" (the early morning hours when junkies venture out to get their first fix of the day), the streets looked like an open-air market. Drugs were openly bought and sold, and hundreds of people congregated on the four corners of Avenue B and 2nd street. The neighborhood was overwhelmingly Hispanic — the only time you saw a white person down there was if they were on their way to cop or leaving after copping.

The city's leaders announced that they'd had enough of the lawlessness and crime of the area, and to clean up the neighborhood, the NYPD started Operation Pressure Point in early 1984. The LES was flooded with cops who were given carte blanche to kick-ass first, take names later. I was one of those officers.

Maybe I was just young and naive, but I truly believed that we were cleaning up the neighborhood for the benefit of the people who lived there, people like my grandma, people who were just trying to get by and live a decent life among so much squalor. Because despite the crime, junkies, and dealers on every corner, there was still life on those streets. There were still the corner bodegas, the panaderias with their delicious cafe con leche, the salsa music coming from open windows.

Now those bodegas and panaderias are mostly gone, replaced with organic wine bars and trendy art galleries. As it turned out, real estate developers had had their eye on the area long before we moved in to clean it up, buying up properties at bargain basement prices and waiting for the moment when the neighborhood became safe enough to be profitable. Millions upon millions of dollars were made in the following years. The city had no intention of cleaning up the neighborhood for the decent people who lived there — there was too much money to be made by forcing out the poor and working class residents and instead turning those buildings into luxury apartments renting for $3,500 a month. Rent control and rent stabilization did exist, but not nearly enough to keep the neighborhood intact.

The risks we took and the sacrifices we made back then were not to benefit the community I knew — a community that no longer really exists — they were to make money for the city and for the developers. Ihttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gift's hard not to feel a bit resentful of that on some level. And to me personally, it's upsetting to see that the neighborhood and culture I knew has more or less disappeared.
Eddie Nadal has a new blog, 10-66 Unusual Incident. (Hmmm, 10-66 must be another one of them fancy NYPD terms I hear around town, like "perp," "skell," and "RMP".)

[update: here's an article from the New York Times with a bit of the same theme.]

May 17, 2011

Why you'll never be Batman

By your second week, you’re unhappy that 90% of the crimes you’ve even seen up-close are just pathetic junkies buying crack from another pathetic junkie selling drugs to support his/her own habit. And nothing makes you feel LESS like Batman than scaring sad, homeless crackheads. You tried to chase down a kid when you saw him punch a lady and take her purse, but you can’t really pursue that kind of thing by running on rooftops, you gotta do it the hard way by chasing him on foot down the sidewalk… in your full Batman costume, where everybody can see you. People are taking photos on cell-phones, and yep there’s a cop car at the intersection and he saw you, and now he has his lights on and it’s YOU he’s after.
The police draw their guns and order you to stop. You turn and grab for the smoke pellet on your belt to help hide your getaway, but unfortunately for you the cops see you reaching for something and open fire… and you suit’s armor is already a mess from the shotgun blast earlier. Uh oh.
From Mark Hughes [and thanks to a comment by Simmmons].

In Defense of Flogging

It's in, hot, right off the presses!

Amazon actually has nine copies of In Defense of Flogging in stock, for sale, ready to ship, to be in your grubby hands tomorrow!

But I just bought eight of them. Still, that leaves one.

The official release date is June 1. So your local bookstore should have them soon.

Warrant? We don't need no stinkin' warrant!

The cops smell weed and bust down a door. The Supreme Court, in Kentucky v. King, say no big deal. It's a dumb decision, but it's not such a big deal. This decision simply reaffirms the status-quo.

As best, the Court's decision can be described as yet another nail in the coffin of the 4th Amendment. But thanks to the War on Drugs (starting with Alcohol Prohibition) it's not like this is even the first or fifth nail.

And the logic of court has been consistent. When it comes to policing and warrantless searches, here are the rules:

1) Anything police come across is fair game. In other words, if police are there legally, they never have to close their eyes to something illegal (even if it's not what they first came to look for).

2) "Exigent circumstances" give police the right to skip the warrant requirement.

3) Police are allowed to make honest mistakes if they're acting in good faith.

4) Police have the rights to look for weapons that could be used against them.

5) The Court has no desire to read the minds and intentions of police officers (or concern themselves with how hard police knock). It just wants police behavior to be legal.

Taken individually, it's hard to see any of these rules as unreasonable. Taken collectively, it means arrests are almost never, as the Founding Fathers intended, conducted with a court-issued warrant. It's strange to me, since the 4th Amendment--unlike, say, the 2nd Amendment--is pretty unambiguous.

The Court says: "The text of the Fourth Amendment does not specify when a search warrant must be obtained." Actually, in omission, it does: All the time. But the Court has long discarded that principle and declared the "unreasonable" word in the 4th Amendment means that “reasonableness” is the key. [Doesn’t this go against the 9th Amendment? But what do I know?]

Kentucky v. King affirms what the rules of the street have long been: destruction of evidence is an exigent circumstance that gives police the right to bust down a door without a warrant. If the people in the apartment hadn't made sounds like they were covering up evidence (which they were), police wouldn't have had the right to break down the door.

But here the court gets a little saucy: "Citizens who are startled by an unexpected knock on the door... may appreciate the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to answer the door to the police." Well ain't that precious? "When law enforcement officers who are not armed with a warrant knock on a door, they do no more than any private citizen might do." Wow. Having knocked hard on a few doors myself, I find that hard to believe, especially when the Court follows it up with this: "Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame for the warrantless exigent-circumstances search that may ensue." Oh, snap!

Here are the specifics:
Police officers set up a controlled buy of crack cocaine outside an apartment complex. Undercover Officer ... radioed uniformed officers ... that the suspect was moving quickly toward the breezeway of an apartment building, and he urged them to “hurry up and get there” before the suspect entered an apartment.
Just as they entered the breezeway, [uniformed officers] heard a door shut and detected a very strong odor of burnt marijuana. At the end of the breezeway, the officers saw two apartments, one on the left and one on the right, and they did not know which apartment the suspect had entered. Gibbons had radioed that the suspect was running into the apartment on the right, but the officers did not hear this statement because they had already left their vehicles. Because they smelled marijuana smoke emanating from the apartment on the left, they approached the door of that apartment.
One of the uniformed officers ... banged on the left apartment door “as loud as [they] could” and announced, ... “Police, police, police.” ... “[A]s soon as [the officers] started banging on the door,” they “could hear people inside moving,” and “[i]t sounded as [though] things were being moved inside the apartment.” These noises, Cobb testified, led the officers to believe that drug related evidence was about to be destroyed.
Cobb then kicked in the door, the officers entered the apartment, and they found three people in the front room: respondent Hollis King, respondent’s girlfriend, and a guest who was smoking marijuana. The officers performed a protective sweep [and] saw marijuana and powder cocaine in plain view. In a subsequent search, they also discovered crack cocaine, cash, and drug paraphernalia.

Police eventually entered the apartment on the right. Inside, they found the suspected drug dealer who was the initial target of their investigation.
Now it's one thing to think, as I do, that the War on Drugs is futile and a very unproductive use of police resources, but in this case it all comes down to whether or not the officers "created their own exigency" by ordering the occupants to open the door. The Court somehow bases its decision on the hard to believe idea that the officers never said, "Open the door." Now I wasn't there, but I'd bet, "POLICE POLICE POLICE," was quickly followed by "OPEN THE F*CKING DOOR OR WE'LL BUST IT DOWN!" The court, eight out of nine majestic justices, respectfully disagrees.

May 12, 2011

"This damn job could be work"

No doubt you, like most others, think the professorial life is all glamor, fame, leisure, wine, and women. That's just what I want you to think with my frequent vacations and the fact there's a good chance I might still be in my bathrobe at 3pm (working at home, mind you). Such perks do have their advantages.

Nevertheless, there's nothing more mind-numbing than, at 1AM, correcting and editing writing assignments filled with basic grammar errors. I can't help but wonder why my dear students didn't learn sentence structure in high-school? Trying to teach basic writing skills--and taking the time to assign and correct writing assignments--may be the most important thing I do for my students. At least that's what I tell myself. But it's not what I thought I'd being doing when I got my PhD. Nor is it fun. Hour for hour, I'd prefer to be policing (does that bumper sticker exist?). So here's to high-school English teachers... or at least the ones that teach good old-fashioned grammar.

And then, just when I start thinking of complaining, I think of what my dad always said about being a professor, "It beats real work!" And you can't beat summers off.

[Update: here's a great link from the comments section: Death to High-School English, by Kim Brooks. And here's my attempt at a solution: Grammar 101.]

May 10, 2011

Memories of a Baltimore Crack House

One of the nice things about being a police officer is you can explore places that normal people fear to tread (or would get arrested if found). Back in 2001, I wanted a good view to conduct surveillance of a drug corner. So I entered this vacant building. This block has since been torn down.

#1) 1900 Block of E Eager. 1906 E Eager is the third house (with awning) from Mr. George's corner laundromat. Two short blocks North of Johns Hopkins Hospital, this corner (Wolfe and Eager) is one of the "hottest" (but hardly the only) drug corners in the neighborhood, heroin and crack are sold around the clock, rain or shine. Most of the customers are locals, but a conspicuous minority of whites drive in from the poor suburbs looking for the purer heroin found in the ghetto. This neighborhood, built around the turn of the century and featuring typical Baltimore rowhomes, formstone, and marble stoops, was all white until the 1950s, middle class until the 70s and 80s, now it is mostly vacant, all black, and very poor. Hopkins and city own most of the property. Hopkins has since torn down most of this area.

#2) The corner looks deserted. It is just 7 in the morning. But a few moments earlier, there were dozens of people roaming about. But a funny thing happens when you park a police car in the middle of the intersection, turn off the motor (otherwise the picture is blurry), and take a picture. People scatter. Note how everybody is walking away. I didn’t take in personally.

#3) Approaching the rear of 1906 E Eager from N Chapel St. I was looking for a location to observe drug sales on the corner and out of one house in particular.

#4) Most vacants are boarded up to prevent junkies from entering, or filled with too much trash and damage to let one safely enter. The rear entrance of 1906 E Eager is wide open. The first time, on official police business, I went in alone. The second time, to take pictures, I brought along a partner, just to be safe.

#5) The rear room on the first floor is what used to be the kitchen. In the northeast corner are old appliances, partially stripped and peeling lead paint, and remnants of alpine wallpaper.
#6) Another view of the alpine wallpaper.

#7) Looking southwest in the kitchen, a few more appliances.

#8) The southeast corner of the kitchen. Like almost all the metal, the iron stove top grates have long been sold for scrap.

#9) The front room is the living room. A TV and couch remain. Makes me think the home was occupied into the 1990s. The front door is on the right. It’s interesting to me that a big color TV, once somebody’s prized possession, is no longer worth anything.

#10) The front door is on the left. Vivid woodland wallpaper remains.

#11) Looking up the staircase between the rooms. One of the stairs is rotted through, but the rest are in pretty good shape. This is a typical staircase for a rowhome. It’s horrible for police. Often there’s no handrail, and you can easily be pushed down. At the top, suspects could be in either or both directions. They don’t teach you about this in the police academy.

#12) 2nd floor front room. Nice windows for surveillance of the dealers katty-corner across Wolfe St. Otherwise trash, some drug paraphernalia, a mattress against the wall, two pairs of shoes, and a nicely patterned linoleum floor remain.

#13) Looking East in the upstairs front room. A nice old heating grate, removed from the wall, hasn’t been taken to sell for scrap (or to an antique store in Fells Point). A small water bottle (nicely labeled "water") is on the floor. This water would be mixed with heroin and heated with lighter in a metal bottle cap from a 40oz bottle of malt liquor. The mixture is then injected. The only thing in these pictures I manipulated is the water bottle. I turned it so I could photograph the word, “water.” I love how it’s neatly labeled.

#14) Rear room second floor. View looking rear from the stairs. Two layers of floor cover are visible, along with purple latex gloves, and a black tourniquet to make veins bulge for easier injection. An empty container of cornstarch is on the chair. Cornstarch can be put into empty crack vials and repackaged as “burn,” or fake drugs to sell for a quick buck, mostly to whites coming into the neighborhood. Some of these whites then call the police and tell us they were robbed (always of $10 or $20). They don’t get much sympathy. Locals would know not to buy from local junkies. But selling burn is not without risk as selling burn to the wrong person can get you beat up or killed.

#15) Looking towards the front in the rear room. Mirrors and black pride posters increase the positivity and create a much nicer overall environment. Tupac, Goodie Mob, and Q-Tip. An almost empty bottle of Pepto Bismal lies on the ground, showing that indigestion can strike anyone.

#16) A poster and broken clock on one wall is just of above the bottles of piss and cans of shit neatly kept in the corner. (Unfortunately my partner knocked over that door you see on the lower right corner, tipping everything over. I'm guessing the loose door was positioned for privacy. It spilled a lot of piss and really smelled really rank after that. We left the place worse than we found it. This wasn’t low-impact policing. Sorry.)

#17) A 2000 Sears poster celebrating Black History claiming it's not just for February anymore: “Every family has a history. We celebrate yours every day, every year.” I don't think this is what they had in mind.

#18) Bottles of old malt liquor bottles are filled with piss. I have no idea if any of the plumbing worked. Probably not, but it wouldn't have surprised me if it did. Finding bottles of piss in people's home was not uncommon. Next to the bottles is a free parenting magazine and a toy box.

#19) Another view of the main lounge and work area. Given the conditions, this is not where serious drug dealers do their work. This is a place for addicts to shoot up, relax, and scheme how to come up with their next $10 hit.

#20) A few chairs are set around a collection of empty crack vials. There are also more shoes. Why all the shoes?

#21) Looking closer, there are dozens of empty crack vials. Every color of the rainbow. The legal use for these vials in for perfumes and oils. The color of the cap on the vial often becomes a sort of brand name: red tops, blacks tops, or orange tops. Other good brand names: Uptown, Bodybag, Capone, and the more generic Ready Rock. Also on the floor are candles, cigarette butts, lighters (lots of them), tin foil, and bottle caps. Heroin and coke is an ever popular mix. John Belushi overdosed on it. Sugar, in the form of candy bars and tasty cakes, can take some of the edge of the beginnings of heroin withdrawal. Or so they say.

Notice that the cup being used as an ashtray is standing and in use. The shoes are lined up. Paper is on the floor. In this disorder, there is order. But it’s almost inevitable that at some point in time they’ll burn the place down. And when that happens, you don’t want to be the neighbor next door.

Update: Here's what those first two pictures look like today (or the last time google drove through):

[If you just stumbled across this blog for the first time, consider buying one of my books: Cop in the Hood and In Defense of Flogging. Talk about great Father's Day presents. Christmas, too!]

In Defense of Flogging

The United States now has more prisoners than any other country in the world. Ever. In sheer numbers and as a percentage of the population. Our rate of incarceration is roughly seven times that of Canada or any Western European country. Despite our "land of the free" rhetoric, we deem it necessary (at great expense) to incarcerate more of our people, 2.3 million, than the world's most draconian regimes. We have more prisoners than China, and they have a billion more people than we do. We have more prisoners than soldiers; prison guards outnumber Marines.

It wasn't always this way. In 1970, just 338,000 Americans were behind bars. From 1970 to 1991 crime rose while we locked up a million more people. Since then we've locked up another million and crime has gone down. Is there something so special about that second million? Were they the only ones who were "real criminals"? Did we simply get it wrong with the first 1.3 million people we put behind bars?

Because alternatives to incarceration usually lack punishment, changes to our current defective system of justice are hard to imagine. I am not proposing to completely end confinement or shut down every prison. Some inmates are, of course, too violent and hazardous to simply flog and release. They are being kept in prison not only to punish, but because we're afraid of them. But for the millions of other prisoners--particularly those caught up in the war on drugs (which I would end tomorrow if I could)--the lash is better than a prison cell. Why not at least offer the choice?

That prisons have failed in such a spectacular manner should matter more than it does. But it should come as no surprise, since prisons were designed not to punish, but to "cure." Just as hospitals were for the physically sick, penitentiaries were created--mostly by Quakers in the late eighteenth century--to heal the criminally ill. Like so many utopian fairy tales, the movement to cure criminals failed.

Make no mistake: flogging is punishment, and punishment must by definition hurt. Even under controlled conditions, with doctors present and the convict choosing a lashing over a prison sentence, the details of flogging are enough to make most people queasy. Skin is literally ripped from the body.

Is flogging too cruel to contemplate? But then why, given the choice between five years in prison and brutal lashes, would most people choose flogging? Wouldn’t you? How can offering criminals the choice of the lash in lieu of being locked-up be so bad? If flogging were really worse than prison, nobody would choose it. Of course most people would choose the lash over incarceration. And that's my point. Faced with the choice between hard time and the lash, the lash is better. What does that say about prison?

[You can read more about this in the Chronicle of Higher Education and also in the May-June edition of the Washington Monthly (available in better newsstands, but not yet online). Even better, BUY MY BOOK, In Defense of Flogging. Agree with me or not, you should find the argument thought provoking and the book a good, short read. --posted in The Agitator]

Where's Peter?

As you may or may not know, I'm a guest blogger on The Agitator. A clever woman I'm married to pointed out that I shouldn't have the same things posted in both places so that when when people visit here from there (or vice versa) they'll be rewarded for their hard-earned click. So I'm going to re-post what may be my most popular post (pictures of a Baltimore crack house). And then, for the next week, I'm going to post different things here and there. But mostly I'll be posting there.

May 6, 2011

Drug Legalization Gets Republican Cheers

Al Sharpton and Ron Paul are the two people I can't imagine ever voting for, and yet... God bless 'em for their contributions to presidential debates! They both liven things up, buck the Party Line, and sometimes just make plain sense (though, alas, not all the time).

Here's Paul talking about drug legalization. He makes it sound like a common-sense mainstream conservative issue. Which of course it should be. Maybe soon it will be.

Making drug legalization a debateable issue (which, honestly, ten years ago it wasn't) is half the battle. I like to think that organizations like LEAP (which I'm a member of) have helped this happen. Merely considering that the War on Drugs might be, I don't know, misguided, used to be taboo in polite company. Now a call for heroin legalization gets raucous cheers in Republican debates. It's great to see this shift because when it comes down to honest debate, the prohibitionists simply can't win.

[--Peter Moskos]

May 5, 2011

The Myth of "Rehabilitation"

I'm skeptical of the very term prisoner "rehabilitation." It seems rooted in a misguided sense of paternalism, implying there is some criminal class just waiting to be cured by us, the enlightened class. Rehabilitation implying there is something to "habilitate" in the first place. And this hogwash it is the very foundation upon which our whole prison system was invented.

But the truth is, and many people don't know this, we don't even try to rehabilitate. The Wall Street Journal reports that just 6% of prisoners were enrolled in vocational or college programs. Of course some argue against all programs for prisoners. But what's supposed to happen when they get out (as 95% of them do)? Is this the best we can do with our $60-billion-a-year government-run system of incarceration? Maybe it's time to try something else.

Even if we could "rehabilitate," could you imagine a worse setting than in confinement, surrounded by criminals? And if prisons are just punishment, aren't there better, cheaper, and more honest ways to punish? (Like, for instance, flogging ? But more on that later.)

[Also posted at The Agitator]

"But is it good for the Jews?"

In a shameful move, the trustees of the City University of New York voted not to allow my college to give an honorary degree to Pulitzer Prize-winning playing Tony Kushner. It's the first time this has happened since 1961. Why? Because one of the trustees did some research on the interwebs and found some statements he says are anti-Israeli:
“I think it’s up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things,” Mr. Wiesenfeld said. “Especially when the State of Israel, which is our sole democratic ally in the area, sits in the neighborhood which is almost universally dominated by administrations which are almost universally misogynist, antigay, anti-Christian.”
Kushner, according to his own accounts, has criticized policies and actions by Israel in the past, but is a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist, has never supported a boycott of the country, and shares views held by many Jews and supporters of Israel:
“This has been an incredibly ugly experience,” Mr. Kushner said, “that a great public university would make a decision based on slanderous mischaracterizations without giving the person in question a chance to be heard.”
You can a letter from Kushner here.

May 4, 2011

Were those the days?

It what might be end of a long (and glorious?) Baltimore police tradition, two officers were convicted of misdemeanor for picking up two 15-year-old boys and dropping them off far from home, one of them barefoot. The officers were acquitted of far more serious kidnapping charges.

These officers were certain not the first police officers to pick up trouble-making youths, and, rather than dragging them through the juvenile justice system, decided a fearful two-hour walk home would be more effective punishment. (I never saw this first hand, but I heard many such second- and third-hand stories.) Such shenanigans certain fall under then category of "informal justice," but it was never clear if it was illegal discipline. Is a long lost walk good punishment all of the time? Certainly not. But might it not be the right punishment some of the time?

I'm all for (legal) alternative sanctions. One time I guy in my squad caught two kids throwing and breaking bottle early in the morning. We were a few months out of the academy and the kids were "gigged" with push-ups (ironically that is what we learned in the academy). Was this punishment technically legal? Probably not, but I thought it was one of the smartest thing I ever saw this officer do. A little discretion can go a long way.

[also published at The Agitator]

May 2, 2011

"What are you, deaf?"

Two men were attacked in a bar for flashing signs. Not gang signs. Sign language, according to the AP: "Two hearing-impaired South Florida men were stabbed at a bar when their sign language was mistaken for gang signs." Man... I didn't stab them till after I told them to stop. What?! I did. They wouldn't listen.

There should be an award for such criminal stupidity. Not a standard Darwin Award, but something for idiots who demonstrate not only that they can hate and hurt, but even, by their own demented standards, hate the wrong stranger.

Reminds me of an old joke (or is it a movie line?) my dad liked to tell in which a Jew and a non-Jew are being taken away on the train to Auschwitz. The Jew says, "What a tragedy." The goy replies, "For you it's a tragedy. For me it's a mistake!"


Radley Balko has a bold post on the killing of Osama Bin Laden, "He Won."

Speaking of Balko, he has been nice enough to invite me to guest blog for a week over at The Agitator. So I'll be posting the same things both here and there. Over there, the grass looks greener: there are tens-of-thousands of readers; here there are hundreds.

May 1, 2011

Correspondents' Dinner

I mention this only because I've known Seth Meyers for years, from his days at Boom Chicago, my brother's comedy club in Amsterdam. But I thought he did a great job. And there's a nice cut away to my brother at 1:25 of Part 2. They actually wanted to show Seth's parents but instead got Andrew with Seth's brother Josh and their mom in the background.

And can't Donald Trump even fake having a sense of humor? I predict Trump attempts a hostile takeover of NBC just so he can fire Seth.

Flogging yes... but the horsewhip?

From a comment to my article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
I think that the editors of the Chronicle and the people at John Jay who hired this thug should be taken out and horsewhipped.
Luckily, the woman responsible for hiring this thug stands by me.

In more mistaken criticism, somebody from the absurd we-have-2.3-million-prisoners-because-we-have-more-freedom camp says:
Moskos’s argument is ethically offensive... One is left with the suspicion that this just the latest in a long, long chain of progressive arguments...for not punishing criminals at all.... Moskos tips us off with this section, which is typical of the breed. [emphasis added]
Now I can't criticize a guy for not reading my book yet (because it's not out), but it's curious how he could jump to so many conclusions and be so wrong. I guess he's mistaken about "my breed," whatever that means.