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by Peter Moskos

April 28, 2012

Right-Wing Lies (VII) - Free Obama Phones for the Poor

A while back I started hearing rumors about "Obama phones." You know, Obama taking our hard-earned money to give free phones to undeserving poor people in the ghetto. Really? I keep hearing about this, so I thought there must be something to it. Take this facebook post from a Baltimore cop friend of mine:
Beautiful day out and then I see the all to familiar free cell tent a block away from the methadone clinic. I am so happy I PAY my cell phone bill so the "disadvantaged" can get a free phone. WTF!! The best part is both clinic and tent had the same people in line!!
Almost always (not in my friend's case) these posts are racistly linked to President "Hussein Obama". OK. I know there are racists out there (not my friend, but it's impossible to do online research into this matter without coming across a lot of them), but that's not the point. What I want to know is, is this true?! Are there tents in poor neighborhoods giving away phones? If so, why? And is it an Obama plot?

Let me put it in FAQ format:

Q: Are they really giving out phones in the hood?

A: Yes!

Q: You mean they're really giving out free phones? Like with minutes on them?

A: Yes!

Q: Is the government really taking our hard-earned money and giving poor people phone service?

A: Well, Yes. More or less. Actually a charge on your phone bill rather than a straight-up tax. But whatever.

Q: Why can't I get one?

A: You might be able to, if you're poor enough to qualify for food stamps (gross annual income of less than $14,160).

Q: What's the cash value that these moochers get?

A: About $10 a month.

Q: Is this a secret Islamic Socialist Obama plot to take they money of hard-working white Americans and give it to poor ghetto drug addicts?

A: No, you stupid schmuck!

Q: But what about that video of the woman saying "Everybody got an Obama phone"?

A: She's an idiot. As is anybody who believes Obama gives out phones.

Turns out this subsidized phone service for poor people (many of them rural whites) began under The Great American Socialist, Ronald Reagan.

In 1996, when Clinton was president, people got the choice of using this subsidy for cell-phone service instead of land-line service. Fair enough.

Then in 2005, the program was expanded during the liberal Bush administration.

So go ahead and blame Obama. Why not? He is our president. Born in the Ol' U.S. of A. He does happen to be African-American. So go ahead and blame Obama for whatever you want... but don't blame him for phones subsidies for poor people! [You could, of course, blame him for saving the economy, killing Osama Bin Laden, getting out of Iraq, and keeping this country safe from a terrorist attack.]

The actual cell-phone giveaways did start, by chance, in 2008, right before Obama was elected. Why then? Not because Sharia law was creeping over America, but because cell phone costs actually came down so much that right around then private companies could actually turn a profit by taking money from this program, even with the expense of giving away a phone.

But you know what, maybe giving phone to poor people is actually a good use of government money. Crazy, I know. But think about it. Because you can't get a job if you don't have a phone! Certainly when I was a cop, most homes I went into did not have phone service. [Many didn't have electricity, either. After a while I felt kind of silly asking for a phone number, much less a "work" phone number. Seriously, you don't know what f*cked up poverty till you're a cop in Baltimore's Eastern District.] I seriously doubt people were poor because they don't have a phone. But, should perchance you want one, it's almost impossible to get a job if you don't have a phone phone number to put on the job application so your future employer can call you!

Meanwhile, on April 15, I was with all those middle-class home-owning folk lining up at the Post Office to get my Obama money. You know, mortgage interest-tax deduction. Thank you, Mr. President. I spent mines on booze!

April 27, 2012

Dutch Regulate Marijuana

In a stupid way, mind you. But what I love is that if the Dutch want to regulate drugs, they can! Our illegal drugs are unregulated.

What's ironic is that this isn't actually about drugs. It's much more about traffic and parking.

Also, don't count the kips (chickens) before they hatch. I'd be shocked if this comes into effect throughout the nation and in Amsterdam.

April 23, 2012

Tiger Tiger Tiger, Siss Siss Siss, Boom Boom Boom, meh.

Caleb Kennedy wrote a nice feature on me for the Daily Princetonian.
“I was not particularly happy at Princeton,” [Moskos] said, explaining that he felt much of the student body came from a “New England prep school culture” that he was not used to.
But I loved my professors. And one of them called me a "star student." It makes me beam.

April 21, 2012

Occupy Federally

An interesting development in the Occupy movement is the presence on 25 protesters on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street (with live stream). Federal Hall is is policed by the National Park Service Police and not the NYPD. I assume the NYPD could have jurisdiction. But I'm not certain. And it's not clear if Park Police (and there aren't that many of them in NYC) were policing the protesters or keeping the NYPD away from them (initially the latter). When the protesters first appeared, Park Service Rangers (who are not police) could do nothing but say, "Er, we kinda don't want you here, but there's nothing we can do to stop you."

Here's some coverage from Gothamist.

And I like that there's a noise limit. I'm much more sympathetic to protests that do not involve damn drum circles!

And a bit advice: more American flags (respectfully displayed). Maybe put a few on the police barricades. What is the NYPD going to do, take them down?

I Don't Care if Zimmerman is a Racist

I think there's too much discussion about whether George Zimmerman is racist. I don't care. I don't think it matters. What matters is what Zimmerman did (and lest we forgot: suspect, pursue, shoot, and kill an unarmed and innocent Trayvon Martin).

Part of the problem is the racism is too broad of a label. Since there's no simple definition, it's difficult to place the label (well, it's easy to place the label, it's difficult to do so accurately). Certainly some people simply hate other people because of their race. And this goes for people of all races. Deep down-to-the-core racism. But to say you have to be this racist to be racist is setting the bar too low.

I give George Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt and say he does not hate black people. But he did behave like a racist. And this begs the question: is someone who behaves like a racist a racist? Maybe, but I think it sets the bar too high. Everybody has at some point behaved like a racist, and a term that applies to everybody isn't too useful as a psychological or sociological concept.

It reminds me of how some people love saying police are racist. Once I (half jokingly) accused a partner of mine of being racist when he said something disparaging about the multitude of petty thieves, drug dealers, and junkies milling about Rutland and Barnes in 325 Post (back before those blocks were torn down). He got a bit offended and said, "I don't hate black people. I hate these black people." Yes, indeed he did, and not because of the color of their skin. He hated them for the content of their character. This was more about class than race.

Of course many of those quick to judge don't know police (or any working-class people, for that matter). Blue-collar views are often misunderstood by the smug liberal progressive suburban set, especially when it comes to race. When I was at the retirement party for another police friend of mine (who is not known for his liberal progressive beliefs) I couldn't help but notice that there were a lot more black people present (30 percent?) at his house than there probably will be at my retirement party. Now I know it's a cliche to say you're not a racist because "some of your best friends are black." But certainly it's better than not having black friends! As a white-collar professor, my professional and personal world is much less diverse (and much more white) than it was as a Baltimore police officer. 

In the long run I guess I'd prefer to judge people on how they act than try and gauge the depths of their soul. I don't think anybody doubts that had one of Trayvon's white friends been walking down the same street and spotted by the same George Zimmerman, the white kid would still be alive. Clearly race mattered. And that matters more than whether we call Zimmerman a racist.


I'm always amused whenever conservatives get to play "gotcha" when some liberal says something politically incorrect, or expresses a belief more in tune with Republicans. Because you know those same conservatives don't really care about the issue; it's just a brief moment when they finally get to win a round in a game they never wanted to play (hell, they're still trying to figure out the rules).

One again I turn to Ta-Nehisi Coates, who got me thinking about this. He writes:
I think this sort of thinking is endemic to how the conservative movement thinks about racism. For them it isn't an actual force, but a rhetorical device for disarming your opponents.... Even if you have a record of calling out bigotry voiced by people deemed to be "on your team," it doesn't much matter because there's no real belief in it existing to begin with.

The conservative movement doesn't understand anti-racism as a value, only as a rhetorical pose. This is how you end up tarring the oldest integrationist group in the country (the NAACP) as racist. The slur has no real moral content to them. It's all a game of who can embarrass who. If you don't think racism is an actual force in the country, then you can only understand it's invocation as a tactic.
That tradition of viewing racism, not as an actual thing of import, but merely as rhetoric continues today. To abandon that tradition, I suspect, would be cause for an existential crisis.
And it's not just about race. The same could apply to global warming and probably a few other things as well.

Baltimore City Hall

Circa 1900. Courtesy of Shorpy.

April 20, 2012

Only if it can kill

"The absurdity of banning squirt guns but not being able to do anything about real guns is patently obvious." Indeed that is absurd.

April 18, 2012

Food Deserts: Quantitative Research at its Sketchiest

The New York Times reports today on a RAND study (behind the Great Damned Elsevier Pay Wall) by Ruopeng An and Roland Sturm about the lack of "food deserts" in poor neighborhoods. Or more precisely about the lack of link between food deserts and obesity. More specifically, it questions the very notion of food deserts. From the Times:
There is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.

Within a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, “you can get basically any type of food,” said Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation, lead author of one of the studies. “Maybe we should call it a food swamp rather than a desert,” he said.
Sure thing, Sturm. But I suspect you wouldn't think certain neighborhoods are swamped with good food if you actually got out of your office and went to one of the neighborhoods. After all, what are going to believe: A nice data set or your lying eyes?

"Food outlet data ... are classifıed using the North American Industry Classifıcation System (NAICS)" (p. 130). Assuming validity and reliability of NAICS occupational categories is quite a red flag. It means that if something is coded "445110," then -- poof -- it's a grocery store! What could make for easier analysis? But your 445110 may not be like my 445110. Does your supermarket look like this:

Well the NAICS says it does because they're both coded 445. New York is filled with bodega "grocery stores" (probably coded 445120) that don't sell groceries. You think this matters? It does. And the study even acknowledges as much, before simply plowing on like it doesn't. A cigarette and lottery seller behind bullet-proof glass is not a purveyor of fine foodstuffs, and if your data doesn't make that distinction, you need to do more than list it as a "limitation." You need to stop and start over.

Here's one way to do it: a fine 2010 Johns Hopkins study edited by Stephen Haering and Manuel Franco. They actually care about their data. Read the first page in particular for the problems of food-store categorization. It matters. And notice the sections titled "residents personal reflections on their local food environment" and "food store owners' attitudes regarding stocking healthy food." What a concept for researchers to actually talk to people! (The picture above is from this study.)

I find this so frustrating because so much quantitative analysis is so predictably problematic, over and over, again and again, in exactly the same way. Here's the mandatory (and then ignored) disclaimer (p. 134, emphasis added):
Possibly even more of a limitation is the quality of the ... business listings, although this is a criticism that applies to all similar studies, including those reporting significant fındings.... More generally, categorizing food outlets by type tends to be insufficient to reflect the heterogeneity of outlets, and it is possible that more detailed measures, such as store inventories, ratings of food quality, and measuring shelf space, would be more predictive for health outcomes. Unfortunately, such data are very costly and time consuming to collect and may never exist on a national scale.
So let me get this right, because “all similar studies” use this flawed data, it’s OK? And because getting good data may be “very costly and time consuming to collect,” we’ll simply settle for what we have at hand? Bullshit!

You know, perhaps we never will have good data on a national level about what produce is sold in each and every store in America. I can live with that. But it is neither very costly nor time consuming to simply go into every store in any one neighborhood and see what is there. Do a spot check. Or at least read and learn from the John Hopkins study. I just found it on google without even trying. They managed just fine. And if a corner store sells three moldy heads of iceberg lettuce and some rotting root vegetables, it is not the same as Whole Foods simply because they're both coded 445!*

Ironically, An and Sturm may still be right about their conclusions, but more by accident than design. Maybe the focus on food deserts is barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps obesity is not caused primarily by lack of access to good food. Maybe people do not want to eat healthy foods. Or maybe people simply don't know how to cook. Maybe we need to bring back Home Ec. I don't know. Certainly, I think we can agree, culture matters. But quantitative people don't like looking at culture because it's so hard to count. And who has the time to do time-consuming ethnographies when we've all got to get our name on as many co-authored quantitative peer-reviewed journal articles as possible?

There actually is (or was?) an excellent produce store in Baltimore's Eastern District, Leon's Produce. Conveniently it was right by a busy drug corner. Talk about one-stop shopping! Seriously, as a cop, I could suppress the corner drug market and buy onions and carrots. And yet people would indeed pass up this local family-run store to buy a cheesesteak or yakomee.

Maybe the problem is intense neighborhood isolation. Drawing a geographic circle around somebody and saying a grocery store is "close enough" may not matter if you've never left your neighborhood, don't have access to a car, or are afraid to walk down the block. Speaking of cars, Sturm also uses CHIS data in which "Only 3% of households ... report not having access to a car."

Well there's another red flag.

What does "access" mean? I suspect to some it is gathering $10 for a gypsy cab or knowing somebody who may let you borrow their car in an emergency.

The authors acknowledge the limitations of CHIS data, and then go right on using it: "The response rate ... remains low, and the current study sample has a large proportion of missing values" (30%, in fact!). If you're looking at the problems of poverty in America and believe data that say 97% of people have access to a car, you've got your head up your ass.

And if you have bad data, it doesn't matter what fancy quantitative methods you use. It's putting lipstick on the damn pig of correlation. Garbage in, garbage out:
The primary dependent variables (i.e., counts of food consumption) are regressed on the explanatory variables using negative binomial regression models, a generalization of Poisson models that avoids the Poisson restriction on the mean-variance equality.
Wow! Negative binomial Poisson regression models to avoid the mean-variance equality restriction. I (to my shame) no longer have any idea what that means, even though Poisson regressions were all the rage when I was in graduate-school. But I do remember the fatal flaw of non-random missing data.

I'm not against quantitative methods. I'm against bad research.

And I also believe you need to talk to the people you're studying no matter what methods you use. I don't trust your study on poverty if you've never talked to a poor person. I don't trust your research on police if you've never talked to a cop. I don't trust your research on crime if you've never talked to a criminal. Nor do I trust your research on obesity if you don't talk to a fat person. And if you're going to write about food deserts, you'd better talk to some people who live in one. If you're not careful, you may learn something before it's done. Once you quant-heads actually talk to the people you're studying, then you can go ahead and run all the regressions they want.

*Update (April 29): As one commenter pointed out, a Whole Foods is not coded the same as a corner store (because the Whole Foods is larger). Indeed. But you still get my point.
And here's a picture of a corner "deli-grocery" in Crown Heights, Brooklyn (NYC):

It was in the Daily News because 14 were arrested for a running a drug ring from it. I strongly suspect it wasn't a good place for quality groceries.

April 12, 2012

UC-Davis Pepper Spray

From Jack Stripling in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
The pepper spraying of student protesters at the University of California at Davis in November, an incident that provoked international outrage, constituted an unjustifiable use of force in an operation that was bungled by failures of leadership and communication at nearly every level, an investigative report issued on Wednesday asserts.

The damning report, which was commissioned by the university system's president at the request of the campus's chancellor, highlights a series of missteps that culminated in what it calls a "critically flawed" and unauthorized police action.
The report's major findings include [Still quoting the Chronicle but I've added the numbers]:

1) The use of pepper spray "does not appear to have been an objectively reasonable use of force."

2) Davis campus police officers used a type of pepper-spray weapon they were not authorized to use, were not trained to use, and did not correctly use.

3) Davis's chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi, failed to communicate that police officers should avoid using physical force.

4) The command and leadership of the Davis police force is "very dysfunctional."

5) There is little evidence that protesters attempted violence against the police and weak factual basis to support the officers' contention that they felt trapped by a "hostile mob."

6) Davis should develop accepted rules for regulating campus protests and commission an outside review of police protocols.
To that I say: 1) yes, 2) don't know, 3) rings true, 4) ditto, 5) ditto, 6) sounds good, probably bullshit.

I have two other posts on this incident. You can find them 1) here, and 2) here.

You know, one thing I learned at NPIA, Bramshill (the excellent UK police college where I was last semester) was a better way to handle crisis situations. The Brits do it with "Gold," "Silver," and "Bronze" positions of leadership. I don't know if it's the best way. It's probably not the only way. But it's a damn good way to know who is in charge and who is doing what. Now I have not risen through the ranks of a US police department. And I had the wonderful honor of taking part in an international police leadership class in the UK (a very expensive class at that). I was pretty impressed at the UK way. For instance, if you get promoted to a high rank, you go to (and live at) Bramshill and take a 10-week class. That's leadership training.

Because here's the thing... I have the sneaking suspicion that most US police departments have no leadership training. From my experience, it was first officer on scene and then anybody else could pull rank. That is not a plan. That is not leadership.

And yes, as always, please do comment and correct me if I'm wrong.

April 11, 2012

Zimmerman Charged w/ 2nd-Degree Murder

The story in the New York Times. Shouldn't he also be charged with lesser degrees of murder? And assault?

More Evidence of Creeping Sanity

By Cesar Gaviria, Ernesto Zedillo, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Gaviria is former president of Colombia, Zedillo former president of Mexico, and Cardoso former president of Brazil. All are on the Global Commission on Drug Policy. They say:
The facts speak for themselves. The foundations of the U.S.-led war on drugs -- eradication of production, interdiction of traffic, and criminalization of consumption -- have not succeeded and never will. When there is established demand for a consumer product, there will be a supply. The only beneficiaries of prohibition are the drug cartels.
The stunning reduction in the consumption of tobacco in the Americas shows that prevention and regulation are more efficient than prohibition and punishment.
A paradigm shift, combining repression of the violent drug trade with increased investments in treatment and prevention, would be the best contribution that Latin America -- a region that has suffered so much under drug prohibition -- could make to global reform of drug policies.

[Thanks to J.B.]

April 10, 2012

What’s Eating the NYPD?

New York Magazine has a very good article by Chris Smith on Ray Kelley and the current state of the NYPD:
Whenever Kelly leaves One Police Plaza -- most likely in January 2014, when a newly elected mayor replaces Michael Bloomberg -- he will be rightly celebrated as the greatest police commissioner in the city’s history. Crime, overall, is down 34 percent since Kelly took office. There have been zero successful terrorist attacks on the city since September 11, 2001.
His impact on the department will live long beyond his physical presence in One Police Plaza. The NYPD is now thoroughly marinated in Kelly’s personality and priorities. He’s greatly broadened the department’s racial diversity, and exponentially enlarged its technological capabilities.
An entire generation of cops has grown up schooled in his crime-fighting methods. Nearly half of the department’s 34,800 cops were hired on Kelly’s watch. He handles many promotions personally, so the NYPD’s management thoroughly reflects Kelly’s views.

And right now, the department the commissioner rebuilt has two striking characteristics: its effectiveness and its unhappiness.
Later in the article (it's worth reading the whole thing):
The newspapers were full of NYPD news on February 1. Most of it was topped by large headlines: In East Williamsburg, Officer Kevin Brennan had been shot in the head by a man wanted for questioning in connection to a homicide and miraculously survived. In the University Heights section of the Bronx, four cops were captured on cell-phone video pummeling a 19-year-old suspect. And seven alleged members of a violent gang that had terrorized the Ebbets Field housing project for years were indicted, thanks to the work of the NYPD.

Yet as Eugene O’Donnell flipped through the tabloids that morning, he stopped at a smaller item: “No Shirt, Sherlock—Cops barred from wearing NYPD gear.” Apparently Commissioner Kelly had spotted officers wearing gallows-humor T-shirts that bore an unapproved Police Department logo. Kelly issued an order declaring that all NYPD personnel, on and off duty, were forbidden from wearing unlicensed T-shirts.
O'Donnell -- a cop, prosecutor, and now my friend and colleague at John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- very astutely notices the significance of what outsiders may fail to grasp:
Compared to the other stuff in the papers today, this seems silly, but it’s not silly to cops. None of them would ever trivialize the shooting of a fellow officer. But to the rank and file, the T-shirt thing is much more relevant and annoying, because it’s emblematic of what day-to-day life in the department has become.

The NYPD is an agency of extremes. It can disappoint you beyond belief, and then it can do something incredible, like the hostage team or the anti-terrorism stuff. The T-shirt thing, there’s other approaches besides taking the hammer to everybody and saying they can’t wear anything with the NYPD on it. How about a letter from Kelly that says, ‘Dear colleague, is this the image we want to portray?’ Instead there’s a top-down, blanket order that allows them to catch anyone who slips up. You create a culture that says, ‘If we’re all co-defendants, I’m going to join hands with the knucklehead.’ That’s what you saw at the ticket-fixing case: ‘I don’t fix tickets, but if everybody’s going to be blanketly indicted, then we have to protect ourselves.’ 

Ozzie and Me and Fidel Makes Three

When the P.C. Police come knocking (and I'm not talking about "probable cause"), they usually come from the left. But not always. In Ozzie Guillen's case, the Politically Correct Police are coming from the right. Such is life in Florida, particularly Cuban southern Florida.

Baseball manager Guillen was quoted as saying (in Spanish, I believe):
I love Fidel Castro... I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother f*cker is still here.
I respect Fidel for the same reason. That S.O.B. has outlasted ten U.S. presents. Obama is his eleventh. Say what you want, Fidel has cojones. (And you think we'd be smart enough to figure out by now that perhaps if we really wanted to get rid of Fidel, perhaps sanctions are not the most effective way. Craaaazy thought, I know. Why would we ever admit we do anything wrong after just decades of failure? And US sanctions do hurt innocent Cubans.)

Fidel is the underdog, and it's hard not to root for the underdog. I root for the Cubs, about which Guillen once said, "Our [White Sox] Fans are not stupid like the Cub fans." But I got over it.

I didn't think it was a crime to love Fidel Castro. If so, a lot of liberals and academics would be in prison. (Not me, mind you. I had too many relatives suffer under communist Albania to fall for that crap.)

I've actually been to Cuba (December 1996, I think), and well, it was what it was. Cuba certainly could be a lot better, but it's not like it's all bad. Objectively, it was probably the worst "vacation" I've ever been on: it was surprisingly expensive (three types of currency were in use); off the main tourist path, food wasn't the easiest to come by; the scale and constant presence of prostitution was annoying and depressing. But it wasn't all bad. People were dancing in the streets. We met a nice Rasta on the way to Santiago de Cuba who took us under his wing (thus keeping all the other touts away). And the Cubans do appreciate a good game of chess. In fact, in public, playing chess the one surefire way to keep the whores and hustlers at bay.

Besides, it's not like our dictators have done so much better. And to compare Castro to Hitler (as some who are attacking Guillen are doing) is absurd. Mostly, Cuba was just a bit anti-climactic. It wasn't like going to Albania or even East Germany. Once you're there, you realize it's only the US that makes it such a big deal. Everybody else is free to visit.

I suspect that Guillen's "love" of Fidel is lot less than what comes from most liberals and academics in the US and around the world. But I don't even think Guillen even loves Fidel. It's not like he wants to make out with him. Reminds me of Sarah Silverman, who has a character, kind of like Guillen (described as a "harmless lump prone to adorably offending everyone around her") who apologies for using the word "gay": "I'm sorry, you guys, I don't mean gay like homosexual. I mean gay like retarded."

Oh, what's that knock on my door?

April 9, 2012

Moving beyond prohibition

Three months ago, I became president of Guatemala. And contrary to the good fortunes enjoyed by [Drug Lord "Chapo"] Guzman, I found that the justice and security systems were not what they had been 20 years earlier. Which led me to ask myself these questions: isn't it true that we have been fighting the war on drugs these past two decades? Then, how on earth is drug consumption higher and production greater and why is trafficking so widespread?
Moving beyond prohibition can lead us into tricky territory. To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcohol and tobacco, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?

Our proposal, as the Guatemalan government, is to abandon any ideological position (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach – drug regulation.
Otto Perez Molina is president of Guatemala. Read his whole article at the Guardian.

Wouldn't it be nice if our president could show such leadership?

[thanks to S.M. down under]

Not only in Baltimore

Despite what some citizens of Baltimore think, kids zooming around on dirt bikes and 4-wheeled ATVs are not a natural rite of spring. But it turns out it's not just Baltimore. It's also all the rage in Philadelphia. And police are handcuffed to do anything about it. So it goes on. I'm quoted in this article by Dana DiFilippo.

April 5, 2012

"Only in Baltimore"?

That's not true. But this kind of thing does seem to happen all too often in Mob City.

Justin Fenton writes in the Sun:
At first, the video of a man being beaten and stripped in downtown Baltimore appeared to be just another tantalizing shock clip for the Internet. But in recent days, thanks to social media users as far away as California, it could prove instrumental in solving the case.

Police have made no arrests in last month's attack, but they said tips were flooding in about the identity of the man shown punching a disoriented victim before others ripped off his clothes, took his belongings and humiliated him on the sidewalk outside a city courthouse.
In this case the victim is white and drunk. The attackers are all (best I can tell) African American.

April 4, 2012

Protesting Black-on-Black Violence

I've written (sarcastically) how nice it is that in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, some conservatives are suddenly very concerned about black-on-black violence. The actual voiced argument goes that blacks (and liberals) only care about black-on-black violence when it comes at the hands of a white person. Of course that's not true. Just because you refuse to hear something doesn't mean other people aren't shouting.

I wanted to do a post listing some of the protests over the years. Because there really are a countless number of them. But I was too lazy to actually do the grunt work. Luckily, over on his blog, Ta-Nehisi Coates did it for me. It's worth a look.

And if you've never heard of any of these protests, might I suggest you ask yourself, "why not?" Perhaps you want to blame the media. Or perhaps you don't care. That's your right, I suppose. But it's not your right to say other people don't care just because you're ignorant.

Bad Cuts

Shame on NBC for selectively editing the 911 call Zimmerman made.

No Excuse for Shooting

Can we please stop using being teased and bullied, no matter how bad, as an excuse to kill yourself or others? I can't help but wonder if there's a link between the criminalization of bullying, a culture (on the left and the right) that embraces victimhood (not to mention guns), and mass shootings.

If you are going to kill, can't you at least kill just the bullier?

California Prison Release

Off to bumpy start, says the LA Times:
Many of the ex-criminals are not showing up for counseling appointments, some care centers are not being paid and county bureaucrats are scrambling to correct foul-ups that have caused delays.
In the six months since, about a quarter of the probationers have been arrested for allegedly committing new crimes, which is below the previous state average for probationers.
It's kind of sad that one-quarter rearrested within six months is better than average. If any of you could figure out how to lower the recidivism rate, you'd be a hero. I have one answer: WPA-style make-work programs.

Australian foreign minister call for drug decriminalization

From the Telegraph:
Bob Carr, Australia's foreign minister, whose brother died after a heroin overdose, has urged the decriminalisation of low-level drug use, after a report concluded the war on the scourge was lost.

His comments were at odds with Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, who said tough policing was the answer while the government's chief law officer expressed a measure of scepticism about the new report.
So now we've got prominent leaders from Australia, the Netherlands, Mexico, Portugal, Greece, Colombia, and Brazil, not to mention the great states of New Mexico and New Jersey and UN secretary general.

Wouldn't it be great if our federal leaders could do the same. Republicans could call off the federal war on drugs (I'm all for letting states and localities make their own laws) on the grounds of Federalism. What could be more Tea Party conservative than that?

[thanks to J.B.]

Motorcycle Cop: 1922

Courtesy of Shorpy.

[This one is for you, Smokey]

April 3, 2012

Now that's a playground!

I was looking on google earth and couldn't help but notice a plane sitting in the middle of a playground in the Bushwick homes. "Cool," I thought, "Must be fun for the kiddies. I like how it's painting all kind of trippy colors. I gotta check it out, esse."
Then I went to street view and, of course, it wasn't there. Because, you know, turns out it's just an actual plane flying.

Gathering a City Jury

Baltimore City tries to increase jury attendance. Currently only 27 percent of those summonsed actually show up. In one more rural counties in Maryland, the show-up rate 99%. Because, you know, it's a duty and you're not supposed to have a choice.

From the Sun:
Technically, the law allows for a fine of up to $1,000 and 60 days in jail, but both punishments are unheard of.
About 20,000 Baltimore summonses have gone out for dates through May 14, and the cumulative response rate to the questionnaire is about 60 percent, up from about 20 percent under the old system.
I've never served on a jury. I suspect my police background doesn't go over well with defense attorneys.

April 2, 2012

The Gray Lady Shines

Nobody said it was perfect, but New York Times is a damn good newspaper. (I hear the conservatives' wincing response already. But, dear reader, how can you complain about the Times if you don't read the Times? Stop believing whatever AM blowhards say.)

First the Times has a nice intereactive map about the scene of the Trayvon killing.

Second, there's a great fair and balanced account of Martin and Zimmerman and what happened. No hype. Just the facts and clearly labeled speculation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the best and least biased and most informative account of the characters and scene to date.

[The only troubling error I see is in Zimmerman's favor. Zimmerman did not say he would meet the cops by the mail boxes. He tells the cops to call him when they arrive, since Zimmerman was not expected to be by his car. And he wasn't]

And tangentially related, Bill Keller writes a nice proper op-ed attacking the concept of the "hate crime." I agree; I don't like the criminalization of thought one bit:
The fact that [the hate crimes law] is constitutional and commonplace does not quiet the nagging sense that hate crime legislation resembles something from an Orwell dystopia.... The government is authorized to punish you for thinking those vile things, if you think them in the course of committing a crime.
It’s not a great reach to say that Ravi faces up to 10 years in prison for being a jerk.
This is the kind of demagoguery that could prejudice a prosecution, or mobilize a mob. Is it not creepy, by the way, that Spike Lee was tweeting the suspected home address of George Zimmerman? As if to say, “Go get him!” (Lee sent apologies and a check to the elderly couple who were scared from their home because, oops, the tweet gave the wrong address. But apparently it’s O.K. to terrorize Zimmerman.)
In most cases, hate crime laws take offenses that would carry more modest sentences — assault, vandalism — and ratchet up the penalty two or three times because we know, or think we know, what evil disposition lurked in the offender’s mind. Then we pat ourselves on the back. As if none of us, pure and righteous citizens, ever entertained a racist thought or laughed at a homophobic slur.

Bias laws are widely accepted. They are understandable. They are probably here to stay. But they seem to me a costly form of sanctimony.

Seven die in California shooting

The BBC reports. And my response is once again to re-post a cartoon:
But relax! Your paranoid political fantasies notwithstanding, no one's going to take your guns away!
Barring some seismic realignment in this country, the gun control debate is all but settled--and your side won. The occasional horrific civilian massacre is just the price the rest of us have to pay. Over and over again, apparently.

Spread those cheeks

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of strip searches for minor offenses. This isn't a big surprise. The Court has always granted a lot of discretion to jails and prisons to run their own affairs, with regard to safety, broadly defined:
Maintaining safety and order at detention centers requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to problems. A regulation impinging on an inmate’s constitutional rights must be upheld “if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.”
[C]orrectional officials must be permitted to devise reasonable search policies to detect and deter the possession of contraband in their facilities, and that “in the absence of substantial evidence in the record to indicate that the officials have exaggerated their response to these considerations courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters.”
The four more liberal justices dissented.

Leaving aside constitutional issues, I've always pointed out that you should welcome a strip search in jail not because of you might be hiding or carrying, but because of everybody else you'll be with. There are a lot of criminals in jail. If I'm in jail, I will sleep better knowing that everybody else has been thoroughly searched for weapons.

Of course such logic does ignore the fact that most contraband gets into jail through visitors and correctional officers.