Apr
06

Why cops shoot

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Photo by Kate Sheets via Creative Commons.

We’re the only country in the world that polices like this.
— Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Volusia County, FL

Ben Montgomery and a team from the Tampa Bay Times asked 400 law enforcement agencies across Florida for records of when an officer fired a gun and injured or killed someone between Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2014. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri prompted questions about how often such shootings happen. The result of the inquiry is an extensive report titled “Why Cops Shoot.”

“It was very difficult to get agencies to cough up records,” Montgomery says in a video accompanying the story. Collecting the information took two years. Their mission was to answer a basic question: “Are there ways to do this where people don’t have to die?”

The Tampa Bay Times report arrives even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a March 31 memo that his office would call a 90-day pause in its consideration of police reform efforts begun under the Obama administration. In Baltimore last night, U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar issued an order rejecting the attempt by Sessions and the Trump administration to delay public consideration today of the consent decree between the Department of Justice and the Baltimore police department. Bednar’s writes in the order, “To postpone the public hearing at the eleventh hour would be to unduly burden and inconvenience the Court, the other parties, and, most importantly, the public.” The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. EDT.

The Sessions memo recommends that the “misdeeds of individual bad actors” not “impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work” of law enforcement. Yet the Tampa Bay Times report uncovers yet again patterns of policing that result in unnecessary deaths of citizens — many unarmed
— and community mistrust of police services. Too many police shootings are “lawful, but awful” according to Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Resarce Forum (PERF).

This is one such example from “Why Cops Shoot”:

In January 2010, Orange County sheriff’s deputies moved in on Torey Breedlove, a suspected car thief in an SUV. Breedlove tried to drive away but was surrounded by deputies with guns drawn. A witness said Breedlove raised his hands, but deputies said they heard an engine revving, so they fired 137 rounds, killing Breedlove. A grand jury cleared the deputies, but Breedlove’s sister sued on behalf of the man’s four children. Evidence presented in the civil case showed the revving engine was a deputy’s SUV, not Breedlove’s. His sister got $450,000.

“The conduct at issue here,” wrote U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell, “is more akin to an execution than an attempt to arrest an unarmed suspect.”

Montgomery is circumspect. “There are not any incidents that we looked at in these 770 cases, in which 830 people were shot,” Montgomery says, “which clearly spell out that this officer intended to murder someone. That’s not the case at all as far as we could find. What is the case are, in some cases, lack of training, just the rush to judgment.”

And simply bad practice.

In 2014, for the first time ever, police took more from American citizens than burglars did, according to economist Martin Armstrong, who used statistics from the FBI and Institute for Justice. Police departments use the money, cars and homes seized through civil asset forfeiture to support their budgets.

[…]

“The answer to the riddle of why officers who are assigned to drug and gun and other contraband-oriented assignments, who are armed to the teeth, often in military fashion, take the time and trouble to make traffic stops for mundane offenses like ‘tag light out’ or ‘no seat-belt’ can be answered by the multi-million dollar forfeiture trade that supplements police incomes,” Cook said.

Mike Chitwood, now sheriff of Volusia County, was police chief in Daytona when Montgomery interviewed him. Chitwood believes the key to the use of force is proportionality. He has been engaged for years in Wexler’s group and brought training in deescalation and active listening to Daytona:

“We’re proficient in (shooting), but we’re not proficient in the No. 1 thing: dealing with people,” he said. “I think the No. 1 complaint in America against police officers is rudeness.”

He also began to try to keep crooked cops out of his department by hiring people with solid, deep background investigations. He established an alert system to try to identify rogue cops. He started randomly drug testing officers.

[…]

What’s particularly interesting about Chitwood is the stricture of his policies, especially when it comes to police chases and use of force. He’s blunt. Don’t shoot into a vehicle. If you do shoot, he said, you’d better have tire tracks on your chest.

“I think most shootings that we see are because we the police put ourselves in a position that we don’t need to be in,” he said. “Today, for some reason, we’ve switched out of the guardian mentality and we’ve become warriors. And that’s not what American policing was founded on.”

We’ve looked at the “warrior cop” here before.

One might not blame an incoming administration for stopping to review the policies of its predecessor. Then again, people are dying. “Why Cops Shoot” gives an indication of why and what might be done about it in addition to creating a national police violence database for studying it. Montgomery concludes we need one. The question this morning is whether Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are more interested in American policing being tough or just. Wait, don’t answer that.

“We’re the only country in the world that polices like this,” Chitwood says.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Apr
01

The king of chaos

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Chris Hayes put together a must-watch mashup of how Donald Trump used his patented Trump University flim-flam to win the White House. Watch it here

The lawsuit against Trump University ended yesterday in a settlement for his victims:

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled in favor of a $25 million settlement between President Trump and customers of his defunct Trump University, NBC reports. Trump and his lawyers reached a settlement shortly after the election; Trump did not admit to wrongdoing in the case, but nevertheless agreed to settle.

“This never was a university,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last June. “The fraud started with the name of the organization. You can’t just go around saying this is the George Stephanopoulos Law Firm/Hospital/University without actually qualifying and registering, so it was really a fraud from beginning to end.”

One wonders how the rest of us can collect damages as victims of what was never a presidency. The sort of glitz and bamboozlement that worked for Trump in his business dealings is failing him horribly on the world stage. Leaders of world powers are not so easily bamboozled, Trump being the exception that proves the misrule. Trump’s poll numbers in his first 100 days have sunk lower than Obama’s lowest, and Obama is the president Trump seems most eager to best.

At Axios, Mike Allen writes:

President Trump brought his chaos-and-loyalty theory of management into the White House, relying on competing factions, balanced by trusted family members, with himself perched atop as the gut-instinct
decider. He now realizes this approach has flopped, and feels baffled and paralyzed by how to fix it, numerous friends and advisers tell us.

[…]

The chaos dimension has created far more chaos than anticipated. Come nightfall, Trump is often on the phone with billionaire, decades-long friends, commiserating and critiquing his own staff. His most important advisers are often working the phone themselves, trashing colleagues and either spreading or beating down rumors of turmoil and imminent changes.

This has created a toxic culture of intense suspicion and insecurity. The drama is worse than what you read.

Neal Gabler admits he, like many others, got Trump wrong. While Trump may dsiplay the style of fascist leaders and have the temperament, he lacks the skills:

It’s not Trump’s ability to marshal the forces of repression that should terrify us. It’s his inability to marshal forces to conduct even the most basic governance. Trump really is a presidential Joker. He knows how to wreak havoc, but he doesn’t seem to know how to do, or seem to want to do, much else.

The threat from Trump isn’t fascism, Gabler believes, but anarchy. From an anarchist leading anarchists, in fact. Exhibit A: the Republican insurance plan that was doomed to fail:

Just think about it for a moment. The Republican replacement was really a non-insurance bill, by which I mean it flew in the face of the most fundamental principle of insurance — the healthy pay for those who aren’t. It is the sort of community of interest that is anathema to conservatives who believe it is every man for himself.

The upshot is that you cannot have “conservative” insurance. It isn’t tenable. When you have freedom of choice with every person getting to choose whether to be insured or not, and with those who are insured getting to choose what they want to have covered, you do not have a viable insurance system. You have anarchy. Anarchy was built right into the Republican plan.

Built in because it was never a plan at all. Like Trump, Republicans never had any interest in one. But huge tax cuts for the already rich is a hill they will die on.

When you come down to it, Republicans are really anarchists dedicated to undermining government in the furtherance of an economic state of nature where the rich rule. What we saw these past few weeks was not the failure of Republicanism, as so many pronounced on Friday, but its logical and inevitable conclusion. Republicans are great at opposing things, destroying things, obstructing things, undoing things. They are really, really terrible at creating things because they have no desire to do so.

The rich ruling explains Trump’s fascination with Vladimir Putin as much as theories about Trump’s Russian business connections. Putin is the total package. Money plus the authoritarian muscle Trump lacked. For his royalist legions — more Tory than T-party — Trump is the king they secretly long for. It’s all the same to them if he is a mad king.

Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner have tried to sell the Trump White House’s serial failures as the normal glitches experienced in any tech startup. It’s a sign of Trump’s entrepreneurial derring-do.

Yesterday, Trump walked out of an executive order signing ceremony without signing the executive orders.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Jul
20

Reality show trial

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Soon after Republicans nominated reality TV star Donald J. Trump for president last night, New Jersey governor and failed Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie conducted a reality show trial for Hillary Clinton in prime time. It might have been less creepy if some faux cardinals burst onto the stage armed with soft cushions. But no, there was only one, soft Chris Christie repeating debunked allegations against Cinton and asking the mob(?) in the coliseum, “Guilty or not guilty?”

The theme for last night was Make America Work Again. Nobody seemed to speak to it. They were too busy attacking Hillary Clinton.

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Jul
12

Damned if you whatever

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r9vlzWLs_400x400Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about it: the systemic discrimination faced by black people in this country. Even white people like me know about “the talk” black parents have with their sons:

Every black male I’ve ever met has had this talk, and it’s likely that I’ll have to give it one day too. There are so many things I need to tell my future son, already, before I’ve birthed him; so many innocuous, trite thoughts that may not make a single difference. Don’t wear a hoodie. Don’t try to break up a fight. Don’t talk back to cops. Don’t ask for help. But they’re all variations of a single theme: Don’t give them an excuse to kill you.

For all the good it will do.

In the wake of the recent shootings of black males Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (as well as the shootings of policemen in Dallas) on top of all the others — Brown, Garner, Scott, Gray, Rice, McDonald, etc. — it seems there is no instruction one could give or follow to ensure a black male will survive an encounter with police.

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Jul
11

Baton Rouge … the year is 2016

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Remember when In the year 2016… would have introduced filmgoers to a dystopian future? Welcome to it.

Following the Alton Sterling shooting last week, some truly iconic images are coming out of the Baton Rouge protests you need to see.

The image below by photographer Jonathan Bachman is already being hailed as “legendary.” A protester blocking the highway in front of Baton Rouge Police Headquarters is arrested by State Police.


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Jul
10

More to it than platforms and candidates

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The Twitter thread yesterday from the DNC’s platform committee meeting in Orlando was pretty entertaining. There was a lot of passion from the Bernie Sanders delegation. The debate on fracking was particularly heated. Filmmaker Josh Fox (Gasland) spoke in favor of language to ban the practice:

The Orlando Sentinel reports:
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Jul
10

Sunday Morning Music

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Because I need this:

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Jul
08

Another bad day in Dallas

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Publication1Police are still trying to sort out what happened when snipers opened fire on police during a peaceful protest in Dallas last night. Hundreds of people were in the street protesting the police shootings this week of Alton Sterling (in Baton Rouge, LA) and Philando Castile (in St. Paul, MN) when the shooting began. Police were the targets. Twelve officers were shot and 5 of them died. Two civilians are reported injured. Police say there is no known connection to international terrorist groups. The New York Times reports:

The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said that four people armed with rifles were believed to have carried out the attacks. They positioned themselves in triangulated locations near the end of the route the protesters planned to take.

The police had three people in custody and were negotiating in the early-morning hours with a fourth, who was in a garage in downtown Dallas at the El Centro community college.

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Jul
07

Another day, another police killing

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In bleeding color:

A St. Paul man died Wednesday night after being shot by police in Falcon Heights, the aftermath of which was recorded in a video widely shared on Facebook in which the man’s girlfriend says the “police shot him for no apparent reason, no reason at all.”

Friends at the scene identified the man as Philando Castile, 32, cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul.

Castile had cooked “for 12 to 15 years” at a Montessori School. Let that sink in. Philando Castile is black.

The girlfriend started the live-stream video with the man in the driver’s seat slumped next to her, his white T-shirt soaked with blood on the left side. In the video, taken with her phone, she says they were pulled over at Larpenteur Avenue and Fry Street for a broken taillight.

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Jul
06

Not there yet on education

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Photo by Josconklin [CC BY 3.0], via Creative Commons.

Democrats’ platform draft contains a plank on education that leaves Diane Ravitch with doubts. It reads in part:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools and we will help them to disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. At the same time, we oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. Democrats also support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

Days ago, Ravitch wrote at her blog:
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