About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

July 28, 2014

Gun Rights

This recent decision in DC saying there is right to carry is actually bigger news than you'd think. Why? Because up till now you did not have that right.

This decision asserts constitutional rights beyond what the Supreme Court has ever ruled. The Court said that the government cannot prevent you from having a gun in your home for protections. But that's it. Now this was a huge decision because, for the first time ever, the Court, in Heller and McDonald, ruled that the 2nd Amendment indeed does give an individual a right to bear arms.

This wasn't the intention of the Founding Fathers and has never been the case in US history, but what is good for the (liberal) goose is good for the (conservative) gander. I have no problem with the Court expanding our rights (or more correctly: limited the rights of the government). The 9th Amendment says this explicitly (though this Amendment, for reasons I do not understand, is rarely invoked in Court opinions).

Still, given those Supreme Court decision, the government could regulate ammo, the kinds of gun, and everything about guns in public. But even with those restrictions, Heller and McDonald were landmark cases that re-interpreted and expanded the 2nd Amendment. But all they said is that regulations could not prevent, again, you from having a handgun in your home for protection. That's it. But it was huge.

But now a lower court has said you, my fellow American, have a constitutional right to carry a gun in public. That is a huge expansion of the the core rights of the 2nd Amendment. We'll see if it stands.

July 23, 2014

Looking up to police officers

I just learned that cops in Greece have to be at least 5'7" (170 cm) tall. Male and female. That's crazy. Hell, I'm just barely over the cutoff.
...which is the highest minimum in Europe, along with Malta, Romania and Serbia. At 152cm, Belgium has the lowest height requirement. Female applicants in Greece must also be 170cm tall, making them the highest in Europe.

Is Selling Untaxed Cigarettes Now A Capital Offense?

So asks W. James Antle III in the Daily Caller. The answer is no, even with death of Eric Garner. But it is an arrestable offense. And that's a problem for police. It should be a problem for society. But people love passing stupid laws and then getting upset with police for enforcing them.

July 21, 2014

How to change occupational culture

New York City just paid $2.75 million to settle a lawsuit from a prisoner who killed in Rikers. As a taxpayer, I worry about a million here and a million there. Pretty soon, as they say, we're talking about real money. To the tune of $100 million each year for New York City. And indeed it does not grow on trees.

Everybody who has ever been a jail -- guard, police officer, prisoner, lawyer -- knows some bad stuff happens in there. If you want to find brutality, stop looking at police and start looking at C.O.s. (Of course, it's a lot easier to film police than to film what goes on in jails and prisons.)

But those big settlements don't cost the agencies where it happened one penny. The Department of Corrections or NYPD budget doesn't pay for the lawsuits they brought about. The city pays. It's a lot easier to be irresponsible when somebody else picks up the tab. It's like you're playing baseball and break a neighbor's window. You'll probably break fewer windows if you have to pay for the replacement. But as long as mom and dad pick up the tab, play on.

If some or all of that money came from the agencies that were responsible, I guarantee you those agencies would find a way to change the behavior and working culture that leads to lawsuits. Instead, the culture stays the same, and every now and then an officer gets thrown under the bus.

[Update: Jim Dwyer has a July 22 story with a similar theme in the NYT.]

The chokehold that wasn't?

Not surprisingly, the preliminary autopsy report in the death of Eric Garner shows, shows that the "deadly encounter Thursday did not damage his windpipe or neck bones."

Why is the not surprising? Because I'm still not convinced there was any chokehold at all. It certainly did not happen when Mr. Garner was taken down. There may have been a chokehold later, but as I have said, and without 100 percent certainly, I don't think there was. But seeing how Garner apparently didn't suffer any damage from a chokehold, can we at least stop saying a chokehold killed him?

The Daily News, which has been the most harsh of all the NYC newspapers, has repeated mentioned "chokehold" as a matter of fact, even though it may not be. "Chokehold" is mentioned around eight times in a webpage that ends with, "Sources told the Daily News that a preliminary report found no signs of neck trauma, such as a crushed windpipe."

There's something very strange about people who are screaming about "police killing a man with an illegal chokehold" who then don't care that there perhaps there wasn't a chokehold. Don't facts matter? Of course it doesn't help that Commissioner Bratton himself has called it a chokehold, which seems to sort of settle the matter, at least in the media.

Of course Garner is dead, so it's fair to ask, "does it matter?" Well, yes. It does. Because (as I've said before) there's a big difference between police killing a man and having a man die of a heart attack in the course of resisting arrest. It matters because the former is a crime and the latter is a tragedy. The guy seems to have died from physical exertion while resisting arrest. Is that the fault of police?

Meanwhile a police officer has been tried in the court of public opinion and found guilty. He very well may be tried in a criminal court -- and then there will be further shock and uproar when he is acquitted.

Except for some of the more extreme cops, who believe everybody resisting police should die, most decent people can agree that something went wrong. A man shouldn't be dead after a minor police encounter over a non-violent crime. That should be a starting point for discussion. But if you start by saying police killed a man -- even if it's not true -- it's hard to have any sort of reasonable or productive discussion.

This ideological anti-police bias is a left-wing lie similar to the right-wing lies I prefer to write about. It's like Larmondo "Flair" Allen, the drug dealer who, according to a right-wing email being sent around, was receiving $13,500 a month in welfare before he was murdered. "An outrage!" people scream while blaming Obama ("Flair" died in 2004). When I corrected this fact -- the real figure would have been more like $550 a month -- most people who so outraged by the $13,500 figure didn't seem to give a damn that it wasn't true. They want to be outraged! Facts be damned! "Well," they say, "maybe those numbers are wrong, but that doesn't change my opinion." Well... then you're a fool. If your opinion is based on beliefs that are not true, shouldn't you perhaps change your opinion? Or at least get your facts right?

Maybe in my next post I'll try and break down the Garner encounter situation and point out various points where something could have been done differently. Choices, had they been taken, where Mr. Garner wouldn't end up dead. Certainly things went wrong; a man is dead. But that doesn't mean the officers on scene killed a man.

[Update: I defer to the medical examiner, who says otherwise.]

July 20, 2014

Meanwhile, in the land of Greek Americans

I'm featured in The National Herald, the largest Greek-American newspaper. Front page story, no less (below the fold). Must have been a slow news week. Read all about it.

July 19, 2014

The sound of the drug war slowly crumbling...

...now includes police chiefs saying we should decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. It's not that bold of a statement, but it is coming from an active chief of police!

From Mlive:
[Petersburg, Virginia, Police Chief John] Dixon said drug use and addiction ought to be addressed by public health officials, not police. He said that police often view drug arrests as signs of success, and as a way to help the user.

“Why do I have to lock you up for that? What benefit am I giving you, then? We have to get out of the business. That should be the focus of the medical field.”

The war on drugs has affected minority communities the most, he said.

“It’s insanity. We know. The results haven’t changed.”

Still of the Day

Direct predecessor to DEA agents proudly displaying their prohibition victory. After another decade of trying to make alcohol go away, Americans would wise up and regulate alcohol. Guys like these would then continue the prohibition fight against other drugs. It's 92 years later and more than two million Americans are behind bars. Keep on keeping on!

[Enlarged version here. Taken from Shorpy.com]

July 18, 2014

If you can say, "I can't breath"...

The first thing that jumps to mind in the death of Eric Garner is that somebody who is repeatedly saying "I can't breath" is, in fact, breathing. It's a basic rules of choking, first aid, and well, the way we speak. [Update: Seems I'm probably very wrong about this.]

Also, I'm no expert in chokeholds (because most departments forbid them), but what I do know is that a chokehold can either block the windpipe (which won't kill you, since suffocation takes a while after you pass out) or block the carotid(?) arteries in the neck (which technically isn't a chokehold but a strangle-hold). The former is done with the arm flat on the windpipe. The latter is more a vice grip, and you'll go out pretty quickly. It's pretty lethal. If you're on the giving end, you have to let go as soon as the person drops if you don't want the person on the receiving end to die.

I don't see either of those being a factor here... though it doesn't look good for the officer in green, Agent 99, who did grab Mr. Garner's neck, since chokeholds are forbidden. That officer also may have rushed the decision to put Mr. Garner in custody. Generally I'm for a hand-on approach to physically controlling a guy. And it's not easy to control a man as large as Mr. Garner. I'd be more critical if Mr. Garner died after being Tased.

But this is not a chokehold (though it's possible one was used later).

And yet the Daily News caption in an article about chokeholds says "Eric Garner was put in a chokehold as Staten Island police tried to subdue him Thursday." The officer (Agent 99) is using a half nelson and pulling on the guy's neck for leverage to bring him down and to the right, which he does. He's not near the windpipe, and this does not seem to be an attempt to choke the guy. So it's not a chokehold. Does that distinction matter if the guy is dead? Well, yes. Because chokeholds are forbidden, and the guy is dead.

But there's an important difference between saying "the cops killed him with a forbidden chokehold for resisting" (as I've heard people say) and "he died while resisting." Once you decide the guy is under arrest, what would you do? Mayor DiBlasio said he watched the video like family. Well, I watched it like a cop. And it's not easy to get cuffs and a large resisting man. Just because he died, which is a tragedy, doesn't mean he was killed, which is homicide. Certainly it will matter what the autopsy shows.

What you have is a very large and presumably out-of-shape asthmatic man resisting arrest, perhaps because he didn't deserve to be arrested. (I don't know, I wasn't there.) There do seem to be multiple witnesses (actually at the scene, I might add, which isn't a given when it comes to "witnesses") saying the same thing: Mr. Garner was a peacemaker trying to break up a fight. [But the officers seem to be arresting Mr. Garner for something else entirely: selling a cigarette.]

Mr. Garner, apparently, has been arrested 30-some times. And that very well may be why police focused on him.

But best I can tell (and again, I may be wrong), Mr. Garner seems to be little more than a repeat offender for the criminal offense of... selling loosie cigarettes! Now of all the idiot war-on-drugs nonsense... illegal cigarette selling should be low on the list of law-enforcement priorities. The guy died for selling loosies? And if he was selling them for 75 cents each (I don't know the going price for loosies), then they're cheaper than buying them legally by the pack. If he's selling them for a dollar, then he's making a good profit!

Why are about half of all the cigarettes sold in New York illegal? Because the tax is too high, and that has created a very large black market. The thing about legal regulated drug selling is it needs to make sense.

High taxes on cigarettes -- $5.85 a pack ($4.35 New York State plus another $1.50 for New York City -- were politically popular under Bloomberg, but probably do more harm than good in New York. That, just as much as any chokehold, contributed to the death of Eric Garner.

Selling loosies shouldn't be a crime.

[The post has been updated. And see this as well, dispelling the idea that if you can talk, you can't be not able to breathe.]

July 16, 2014

Reporter fired for politically incorrect editorializing

With regards to the killing of Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago, Fox News TV reporter Sean Bergin no longer has a job after editorializing on-air:
It's important to shine a light on this racist mentality that has so contaminated policing and America's inner-cities. ... The underlying cause for all of this, of course, is America's racist criminal justice system that makes it impossible for young black men to succeed. It's nearly impossible to cover the issue in-depth and accurately when surrounded by stark raving conservatives who masquerade as journalists.
Just kidding.

Bergin didn't say that. And he didn't work for Fox. The truth is, if he had said that, it's very unlikely he would have been fired. He was fired for editorializing in a conservative manner, based on his what he's seen as a reporter.

What Bergin actually said on-air was:
We were besieged, flooded with calls from police officers furious that we would give media coverage to the life of a cop killer. It's understandable. We decided to air it because it's important to shine a light on the anti-cop mentality that has so contaminated America's inner cities. This same, sick, perverse line of thinking is evident from Jersey City, to Newark and Patterson to Trenton.

It has made the police officer's job impossible, and it has got to stop. The underlying cause for all of this, of course: young black men growing up without fathers. Unfortunately, no one in the news media has the courage to touch that subject.

Do I agree with this? Not one-hundred percent, but he certainly brings up a fair issue. Is what he said overly simplistic? Of course. But let's not set the bar too high for local TV news. This sure beats another cute animal video. And don't give me that "reporters shouldn't have an opinion" bit. Or "there's a time a place for everything." This was a great time and place to express his opinion on a major problem.

Bergin later told The Blaze (and then it was picked up by the AP and other news sites):
I broke the rules, but I broke the rules because I was doing the right thing. You can't fix a problem if you don't talk about the problem. The truth is, 73 percent of African-American children grow up without fathers. It's a topic that needs to be handled delicately — and really, this situation could have been used as a way to explore that.
Now that 73 percent figure isn't true and a reporter should know better than to throw around misleading statistics. (There's a big difference between not having legally married parents living together at time of birth and "growing up without a father." Regardless, the comparable figure for whites is 29 percent.) But still, Bergin's greater point is valid: there's a problem here; we need to talk about it and get to the bottom of it.

Bergin went on:
"I'm in these housing projects all the time, and it's all for the same thing: black men slaughtering each other in the streets. Why is this happening?" he continued, adding that it's nearly impossible to cover the issue in-depth and accurately when surrounded by "stark raving liberals who masquerade as journalists."
OK, strike two again Bergin for using the phrase "stark-raving liberal." But I'll give him credit for this: his opinions come from actually visiting the homes and neighborhoods where the violence happens. He sees bad things happening and actually cares. Before you criticize him, ask yourself if you care. Think about the last time you've done anything in a high-crime neighborhood other than lock your car doors.

As I wrote in Cop in the Hood:
If you really want to learn about the ghetto, go there. There’s probably one near you. Visit a church; walk down the street; buy something from the corner store; have a beer; eat. But most importantly, talk to people. That’s how you learn. When the subject turns to drugs and crime, you’ll hear a common refrain: “It just don’t make sense.”
Bergin did all this. Reality, as cops well know, isn't always politically correct. And you don't have to like what what he says to defend his right to say it.

D.A. Rickman on Jonathan Ayers

I received the following email today from D.A. Brian Rickman in regards to this post on the 2009 killing of Rev. Jonathan Ayers (you can read all I've written about the horrible killing of Ayers).
Professor Moskos,

Someone sent me a link to the February article you posted regarding the Ayers case. There were a couple of things I wanted to mention. I don't make a huge habit of responding to many articles or blogs, but I feel like I should as some of what you wrote is important to the integrity of the system.

In our criminal review of the GBI file, and subsequent Grand Jury presentation, two outside prosecutors were brought in to also review the investigation, and appear at the Grand Jury proceedings to offer their opinions of the law and evidence. These two outside prosecutors were District Attorney Danny Porter of Gwinnett County, GA, and District Attorney Emeritus Mike Crawford, who was my predecessor in office. In addition, an outside use of force expert was brought in from another State. Both prosecutors appeared before the Grand Jury, and did so outside of the presence of myself or members of my office staff.

There are many aspects of the tragedy that was the Ayers case that lend themselves to a healthy discuss ion in a democracy about the use of force and about law enforcement without question. My particular job, pursuant to my oath, was to ensure a fair review was had for violations of the criminal law in Georgia, which is of course different from the standard in a civil action for damages.

I take my job, and my responsibilities very seriously. While it is not possible for there to be universal agreement about what we do or how we do it, I did want to mention these facts, which were not in the article, because they go to the heart of whether the process was fair insofar as the criminal review. As it appears from your writing, I was the only prosecutor involved in the proceedings. As mentioned above, two outside prosecutors conducted legal analysis and appeared aside from myself or anyone from my office. I do think that was important for the very reason that those steps were taken, that is to ensure a multiple level and independent review as far as the criminal process.

I appreciate your time. I am not asking for, nor urging you to write any sort of correction or make any sort of posting. It is simply important to me that when a writing goes to my integrity, I respond to it.


Brian M. Rickman
District Attorney
Mountain Judicial Circuit
P.O. Box 2138
Clarkesville, Georgia 30523

Detroit police chief gives credit to armed citizens for drop in crime

From the Detroit News:
The incident was the latest in a string of homeowners opening fire to defend themselves, although after a flurry of such shootings early this year, before Monday there hadn’t been a reported incident since May 4 — an indication that criminals are thinking twice about breaking into people’s houses, Craig said.

Detroit has experienced 37 percent fewer robberies in 2014 than during the same period last year, 22 percent fewer break-ins of businesses and homes, and 30 percent fewer carjackings. Craig attributed the drop to better police work and criminals being reluctant to prey on citizens who may be carrying guns.

“Criminals are getting the message that good Detroiters are armed and will use that weapon,” said Craig, who has repeatedly said he believes armed citizens deter crime. “I don’t want to take away from the good work our investigators are doing, but I think part of the drop in crime, and robberies in particular, is because criminals are thinking twice that citizens could be armed.

“I can’t say what specific percentage is caused by this, but there’s no question in my mind it has had an effect,” Craig said.
A 2013 study by the American Journal of Public Health found that the states with the loosest restrictions on gun ownership had the highest gun death rates. But a 2007 Harvard University study found that banning guns would not have an effect on murder rates.
I don't know why it says "but" instead of "and." Those lat two conclusions are not at all mutually exclusive.

July 14, 2014

Wife of Melvin Santiago's killer wishes husband had killed more cops

Melvin Santiago, a rookie Jersey City cop was killed -- ambushed while sill inside his police car -- responding to a 4am call for an armed robbery.

Sometimes, after a cop is killed, (just between you and me) I think, "man, that cop messed up" (knowing full well that we all mess up some time). Other times I think, "Man, maybe the cop shouldn't have been so eager to search that car, fishing to find drugs. If it weren't for the war on drugs, that officer would still be alive."

Other times, like in this case, I just get sad and think, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Officer Santiago gets a call at 4am for a robbery. What cop hasn't? He responds to the scene and is immediately shot and killed.

The killer, a suspect in a previous homicide and with many previous arrests, first cut and took a gun from an armed Walgreens' security guard. Apparently he then tried to kill the guard (but was perhaps foiled by the gun's safety). He said, "I killed your security guard" and told a customer to watch the news because he was “going to be famous.”

So instead of leaving, he lingers for four very long minutes, waiting for the cops to show up. When the first police car pulls up, he shoots and kills Santiago: "Bullets flew through the cruiser's windshield, 13 in all. The suspect was shot multiple times, and officers slapped handcuffs on him."

This horrible story has been well reported, so I had nothing to add.

But now we've got the words of the killer's horrible wife. See the problem, according to her, wasn't that her husband is a cold-blooded killer. No. The problem is that he didn't kill more cops. Because apparently, in her twisted world view, a man has a right to go out robbing and killing without society being all judgmental.

She says, in what may be the most twisted attempt for sympathy ever:
He should have took more with him. If they was going to stand over my husband and shoot him like a fucking dog, he should have took more with him. That's how I feel.
Sorry for the officer's family. That's you know. Whatever. But at the end of the day he got a family too. All they care about is the officer. All they care about is the officer.
Meanwhile, the mother of the Santiago poignantly stated the obvious:
[The killer] is a piece of shit. My son was 23 years old and he was a good boy, and he didn’t deserve to get a bullet in his head for no reason. For just doing his job. It was his dream and ... he didn’t have to die like that. All because somebody wanted to be famous.

[thanks to anon]

[see later post as well]

July 10, 2014

Crime isn't up

Man, if you read the NY Post, you might think the city is going to hell. And all because a liberal is mayor and cops' hands are tied: "The attack raised fears of a new wave of anti-cop violence -- with a police union president blaming the assault on Mayor Bill de Blasio and his crackdown on stop-and-frisk."

I don't want to minimize the danger of "air mail," people throwing things from high above. It can indeed kill. But I doubt this potential murderer threw a bike at cops because police no longer make quota/productivity-goal based stops.

I also don't want to minimize the unfairness of potential lawsuits brought against individual police officers who are, in good faith, trying to do their jobs.

Even my old sergeant from Baltimore couldn't resist telling me how New York was not longer safe without all those stops, not to mention a liberal Sharpton-loving mayor in charge!

But there's one problem with crime-is-up-because-stops-are-down theory. Crime isn't up! So until crime actually does increase, can we all just stop talking about the rise in crime so matter of factly?

Here's my theory: Cops have, are, and always will stop people when they have reasonable suspicion. Why? Because that's what cops do! Call it doing your job or professional pride or whatever. Cops want to stop crime and catch criminals.

But what cops are not doing much of making stops just to meet some perceived quota. This means that literally hundreds of thousands of guys a year are not being stopped because they're wearing baggy pants in a high-crime neighborhood.

I understand that logic of why massive stop-and-frisks could have a deterrent effect on crime. And yes, school is now out, the summer is hot, and stops have been way down for almost a year.

Now this chart only goes to last year. This year stops are down, murders are down a bit, and shootings are up a bit. Overall, according to the stats, crime is basically unchanged (down 3%). But I make it habit not to rely on any crime numbers other than shootings and murders.

So stops are down and crime is still down. Yes, crime is up in some places, but it's down in other and overall constant. In the 75, stop are down 90% and shootings are up 30%. And leave it to a real news source to find local residents saying police need to start up those stops again!

As somebody just put it (I forget where I just heard this), "what we have now isn't a crime problem but a newspaper-selling problem." I might also add there's a bit of a problem with an ideology that believes the only effective policing is repressive policing.

Is there a correlation there between police inaction and more shootings in East New York? Almost certainly. But we can deal with that without going back to blanket (and now illegal) police of massive stops and frisks.

People feel safe when they see police and normal life functions. Police presence is key. Police getting out of their car is key. Police need to know the people -- good and bad -- in their area. Police need to stay in one area for a long time so that knowledge isn't wasted. But 600,000 stops a year? That's too many. And zero? That's too few. But somewhere in between the two -- and toward the lower end -- it's going to be just right.