Archive for October, 2008

Morning Links

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
  • Say, isn’t the government’s bailout of Chrysler 25 years ago supposed to be the great success story illustrating why taxpayer rescues of private corporations such a great idea? So why are we now being asked to pony up another $10 billion so that failing company can merge with another failing company?
  • Sad story. (NOTE: Link fixed.)
  • If the GOP hedges its future on Sarah Palin, the GOP is going to be the minority party for a long, long time.
  • Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue gives Japanese Korean automaker Kia a sweetheart corporate welfare deal to open a plant in the Peach State. Comes back driving a shiny new Borrego. Maybe there’s an innocent explanation–maybe the car dropped down from heaven after a night of prayer.
  • New York City prosecutor will take the NYPD antenna sodomy case to a grand jury.
  • Pete Guither notes an example of members of a drug task force being honored for the sheer number of narcotics cases they’ve prosecuted. The article includes this sentence: “”The unit has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of search warrants granted to detectives who are conducting narcotics investigations.” This is how we measure success?
  • Turns out that the BailoutSleuth blog, which will track how your nearly $3 trillion in corporate welfare is being spent, is a project started in part by Dallas Mavericks owner and libertarian Mark Cuban. Nice. Also, a note to Sarah Palin, this is what a team of Mavericks looks like.

  • Wrong Door Drug Raid

    Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

    Except this time, the intruders were criminals:

    When armed intruders burst into her Southeast Portland home and ordered her husband and her roommate to the floor at gunpoint, Emily Morden knew it had to be a terrible mistake.

    One of the men yelled: “Where’s Tim?” and barked orders. The intruders began to bind their hands with duct tape. They accused Morden’s 23-year-old roommate of being a drug dealer. The roommate, an old friend, lay on the floor in pajamas and fuzzy duck slippers.

    Morden started to protest.

    “Tim is not a drug dealer! He works at Fred Meyer!” she said, kneeling before the gunman but refusing to lie down out of fear of what would happen next.

    “Are you sure you have the right house?”

    Turns out, they didn’t.

    The “Tim” they were looking for was the medical marijuana grower who lived next door.

    There’s the usual argument here about how this kind of thing puts people in an even more precarious position when trying to determine if the people breaking into their homes are cops or criminals posing as cops.

    But reader Brian Courts, who sent me the article, had another observation I hadn’t considered: The people who got raided by these criminals were actually treated better than most of the people wrongly raided by the police.

    Consider:

    1) No one was shot or killed. And no dead dogs.

    2) The intruders actually apologized when they realized they had the wrong house.

    3) Now that they’ve been caught, the intruders will actually be punished for terrorizing a home full of innocent people.

    Police Electrically Shock 16 Year-Old Girl While Arresting 74 Year-Old Relative in Traffic Stop

    Tuesday, October 28th, 2008
    Every time the Chicago Police arrest a 74 year-old man for speeding and an expired license and then electrically shock his 16 year old relative for allegedly interfering, then people like me and African American Political Pundit want to second-guess the police. Here are the details, as reported to the Chicago Tribune by the police department, and below is my second-guessing:

    A 16-year-old Aurora girl was Tasered Monday by a police officer during a traffic stop after she interfered with an arrest, police said.

    The teen and the officer who used the Taser were treated for cuts and scrapes to their faces. The teen was taken to the Kane County Youth Home after being charged with aggravated battery to a police officer and resisting arrest in connection with the incident that happened about 4:15 p.m. near McCoy Drive and Kautz Road.

    The girl was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a 74-year-old relative that was pulled over by police for speeding. The driver was in the process of being arrested for attempting to obstruct justice and not having a valid license when the teen allegedly left the vehicle and physically interfered with the arrest, police said.

    The arresting officer Tasered the girl allegedly after she got into a physical altercation with him. The situation was brought under control after backup officers were called to the scene, police said.

    The driver was charged with resisting arrest and speeding. Police are not releasing the driver's name in order to protect the identity of the juvenile.

    The teen was treated at Rush Copley and released, and the officer was treated at the scene.
    When things like this happen, we ask questions like:

    Why didn't they just give a ticket for these civil infractions?
    If not, why not just tow the car and let "gramps" go?
    Wasn't it the police determination to arrest (and handcuff?) this 74 year-old person that provoked and precipitated this incident?


    And we Black people always suspect the worst of police. We suspect, for example, that the police's victims are Black; that the police profiled them and then invented a pretext in order to stop the car; that the police roughly tried to arrest an elderly man in a way that risked breaking both of his arms; and the police beat up and electrocuted the sixteen year-old; and then arrested and charged her with assault on an officer simply to provide an excuse for having beaten the minor girl up, electrocuted her, and sent her to the hospital.

    At this point, I don't even know if this girl and her elderly relative are Black. I just suspect they are.

    Morning Links

    Tuesday, October 28th, 2008
  • Peter Moskos, the ex-Baltimore police officer who wrote Cop in the Hood and is now a member of LEAP, says the antenna sodomy incident reported in New York City over the weekend doesn’t ring true.
  • To cheer you up: Sea otters holding hands.
  • Donald Trump loses $5 billion lawsuit against reporter he sued for calling him merely a “millionaire.” Wonder how much he’d sue for if someone were to call him a narcissistic douche with small penis syndrome?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if he could be incarcerated in some prison in Alaska that he won federal funding for, and consequently bears his name? Loves me some irony.
  • Worst costume ever? (Photo might be NSFW.)
  • D.C. Metro to start random bag searches. This would be the same D.C. government that’s punishing drivers with increasingly punitive penalties in an effort to make driving more difficult, and get more people taking public transportation. I guess the message is, if you want to get around, be prepared to take a pass on the Fourth Amendment.
  • More great old photos from the Library of Congress.

  • Is that your appetite?

    Monday, October 27th, 2008

    In Columbus, Ohio, local cops and judges have conspired to put together a series of No Refusal Weekends for DUI stops. If you’re pulled over on suspicion of DUI, you have the choice to consent to a breathalyzer test, or to be chained up by the cops, hauled off to a hospital, jabbed with a needle, and having your blood drawn against your will for BAC testing.

    Please keep in mind, if you happen to be passing through Columbus, that the local police force believes that, on certain weekends of the year (notably, big football games and, natch, the Independence Day), they have the right to stop you, harass you, demand your papers, and then tie you down and take your blood against your will in order to try to find some incriminating evidence, based on absolutely nothing other than some cop’s vague suspicions and impressionistic judgments about your driving, and on the fact that you refused consent to an invasive search by other means.

    (Story via Yury Tsukerman 2008-10-27.)

    See also:

    Detective Defends Cheye Calvo Raid in National Review

    Monday, October 27th, 2008

    Last month, National Review ran a short blurb that was critical of the July raid on Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo by a Prince George’s County, Maryland SWAT team (article is subscription-only).

    To refresh your memory, the police raided Calvo after intercepting a package en route to Calvo’s home that contained marijuana.  They blew open Calvo’s door, shot and killed both of of Calvo’s black labs (one as it was running away), then handcuffed and interrogated Calvo and his mother-in-law at gunpoint for hours.

    Calvo was innocent.  The package was never intended for him.  It was part of a drug smuggling scheme, and was meant to be intercepted by a dealer working at the delivery company.  The Prince George’s County police made no effort to determine who lived in Calvo’s home, did no surveillance, and didn’t bother to notify the Berwyn Heights police chief before conducting the raid.  They have since apologized to Calvo for wrongly raiding his home, but have defended the investigation and the aggressive tactics, including the slaughter of his dogs.

    After National Review’s short blurb denouncing the raid and the overuse of SWAT tactics in general, Milwaukee police detective and former SWAT officer Kent Corbett wrote a jaw-dropping letter to the editor, in which he not only defends what happened to Calvo, he mocks Calvo and his family with scare quotes.  The letter is also subscription-only, so there’s no link.  But here’s the copy:

    As a former S.W.A.T. team member and a current homicide detective with the Milwaukee police department, I must take issue with the tone of a paragraph in “The Week” (September 1). The piece addresses the Cheye Calvo incident, in which police raided a Maryland mayor’s home looking for drugs, killed his dogs, and restrained him and his mother-in-law. It turned out the man was innocent.

    I have personally been involved in the execution of no-knock search warrants, the killing of dogs during those executions, and the investigations of numerous drug-related homicides and officer-involved shootings. Yes, no-knock warrants are issued to avoid the destruction of evidence such as drugs, but they are also issued to protect the officers executing those warrants. In addition, each warrant requires a judge’s authorization, and obviously the available evidence satisfied the judge in this case.

    Sorry if Calvo and his mother-in-law were “restrained” for “almost two hours.” Would you rather have them be comfortable for those two hours, and risk officers’ lives and safety? Calvo should be able to understand what the officers did and why they did it.

    Municipal police departments do fight a war on the streets of this country daily. This incident should not be considered overkill (to take a word from Reason’s Radley Balko), but sound police tactics. As soon as some police administrator starts to second-guess the training and experience of the officers charged with doing these types of investigations, someone will get hurt or killed. Drug investigations are inherently dangerous, and so is the Monday-morning quarterbacking you are doing.

    Kent Corbett
    Milwaukee, Wis.

    National Review’s editors wrote a polite, well-argued response to Corbett.

    I’m going to be less polite, because to use Corbett’s own language, I take strong issue with his tone.  His attitude is appalling, and unfortunately, not uncommon.  The bumbling, violent raid on Calvo’s home is inexcusable.  I know nothing about Corbett, but his public defense of the raid on Calvo’s home ought to call into serious question his judgment as a police officer.  If Cheye Calvo had exercised his Second Amendment right to have a gun in his home for self-defense last July, for example, he’d almost certainly be dead today.  A cop or two might be dead, too.  That simply isn’t an acceptable outcome—not for a nonviolent crime like marijuana distribution, and certainly not when the suspect turns out to be innocent.

    Prince George’s PD’s lack of investigation into who lived at Calvo’s home, their rush to use the maximum amount of force possible, one officer’s inexplicable decision to use her cell phone to make a veterinary appointment for her own dogs while Calvo and his mother-in-law sat handcuffed, staring at the carcasses of his two labs—for Corbett, these are all "sound police tactics."  How dare we Monday-morning quarterback.  In Corbett’s mind, Calvo ought to "understand," and I guess we all ought to understand, even when these incidents happen again, and again, and again.

    To people like Corbett and the politicians whose policies he enforces, drug prohibition is war.  We ought to expect, tolerate, and even defend the occasional collateral damage—be it what happened to Calvo, or what happened to, say, Katherine Johnston or Isaac Singletary.  I mean, if we start getting all upset about what happened to a white, upper-middle class family with some political heft like the Calvos, we might soon have to actually start caring when this kind of thing happens low-income black people, too.  And we certainly can’t have that.  Because, as I’m sure Corbett knows, it happens far more often to them.

    So let’s all take Corbett’s advice.  Should the police mistakenly blow open your door, kill your pets, and detain you for hours at gunpoint, just deal with it.  In fact, be grateful.  We’re in a war, after all.  It’s all about preventing people from getting high, at any cost.  If you lose a couple of pets, or possibly a friend or relative, buck up.  Sure, Calvo and his family were subjected to needless terror and violence.  Sure, they could easily have been killed.  But remember:  Because of the Prince George’s County Police Department’s "sound police tactics," when all was said and done, there was 30 pounds less marijuana in southern Maryland than there would have been otherwise.  And no cops were injured.  So it’s a net win.

    I don’t expect many police officers to agree with me on the appropriateness of SWAT tactics in general (though many do).  But this is a bit much.  Det. Corbett can look at the Calvo raid and not only conclude that the end result was acceptable, but also that Calvo has no legitimate complaint about what happened to him.  The implication is that we shouldn’t bother to worry about this kind of thing.  That we should all just accept the possibility that what happened to Calvo could happen to any of us.  Because what’s most important is officer safety, and winning the war on drugs.

    Corbett’s letter isn’t just wrong, it’s chilling.

    MORE: Someone posted what may have been Corbett’s home address in the comments section, with an invitation for others to vandalize his house. I deleted it. Anyone posting a similar comment will be banned. Have more class than Corbett does, gang.

    The Case for Videotaping Police Interrogations

    Monday, October 27th, 2008

    Last week in the L.A. Times, Washington, D.C. police Detective Jim Trainum wrote an op-ed explaining how he never believed someone could confess to a crime they didn’t commit—until a suspect he was interrogating did exactly that:

    Even the suspect’s attorney later told me that she believed her client was guilty, based on the confession. Confident in our evidence and the confession, we charged her with first-degree murder.

    Then we discovered that the suspect had an ironclad alibi. We subpoenaed sign-in/sign-out logs from the homeless shelter where she lived, and the records proved that she could not have committed the crime. The case was dismissed, but all of us still believed she was involved in the murder. After all, she had confessed.

    Even though it wasn’t our standard operating procedure in the mid-1990s, when the crime occurred, we had videotaped the interrogation in its entirety. Reviewing the tapes years later, I saw that we had fallen into a classic trap. We ignored evidence that our suspect might not have been guilty, and during the interrogation we inadvertently fed her details of the crime that she repeated back to us in her confession.

    If we hadn’t discovered and verified the suspect’s alibi — or if we hadn’t recorded the interrogation — she probably would have been convicted of first-degree murder and would be in prison today. The true perpetrator of the crime was never identified, partly because the investigation was derailed when we focused on an innocent person. 

    If by-the-books interrogations like Trainum’s can elicit a false confession, it isn’t difficult to see how more coercive questioning could as well.  California’s legislature has twice passed a bill requiring the police to videotape interrogations.  Both bills were vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger after lobbying from the state’s police and prosecutors.  A third attempt to pass a bill died in committee this year.

    Last year, I criticized Schwarzenegger for vetoing a bill that included the videotape requirement and two other sensible criminal justice reforms.

    Professionalism in New York City

    Monday, October 27th, 2008

    New York’s finest allegedly sodomize a man with a walkie-talkie antenna after catching him smoking pot in the subway.

    Translation from cop-speak to English

    Saturday, October 25th, 2008

    The San Antonio police department recently adopted a perfectly reasonable policy restricting the use of tasers to situations in which there isn’t any risk that somebody will get killed. Here’s part of a reader’s comment in reply to the story about the policy in POLICE: The Law Enforcement Magazine:

    I think the one officer at a time is a good policy, but to deny them the use of the Taser is WRONG! What are we supposed to do, go back to the baton or billy club? Once an officer is SCARED he will resort to whatever it takes to save him/herself.

    —konaron @ 10/16/2008 8:04 PM

    Translation: according to konaron, cops are a bunch of twitchy, trigger-happy cowards who will resort to any kind of violence, no matter how excessive, in order to save their own skins. Therefore police department policies should indulge their violence as far as possible, even if it means letting them kill people with their non-lethal weapons.

    And I’m the one who’s supposed to be running down cops?

    See also:

    Ending State violence against women in prostitution in San Francisco

    Friday, October 24th, 2008

    Last year, a dangerous California street gang rolled up on 1,583 women and abducted them off the streets of San Francisco, tied them up, and held them against their will for days or weeks at a time. Some were robbed of money and then let go. Others were held in specially-constructed dungeons for as long as half a year before they were allowed to see the light of day again.

    There has been little notice of this massive wave of violence against women in the malestream media, and little outcry, even though this same gang is still active, and is on track to abduct a similar number of women this year. Part of the reason for the neglect of this story is the fact that the 1,583 women were women in prostitution, or suspected of being in prostitution and all too many people (by which I mainly mean men, and by which I mainly mean pols, lawyers and cops) figure that assaults and disappearances are just business as usual for women in the sex trade, something that can be stamped N.H.I. and shrugged off with a blink.

    The other part of the reason is that the street gang’s colors are blue, and they all carry badges, and they call these abductions arrests, the imprisonment pretrial detention or a sentence, and, even though the women they target and grab off the street through force or intimidation are just doing a job for willing customers, and threatening or attacking exactly no-one, these gangsters can count on the biggest racket of all — the protection racket known as the State — to get their back, to claim their violence is justified because it is carried out under color of The Law (as if that were somehow immune to question or challenge), and to put out well-paid mouthpieces who will insist, with a completely straight face, that when women in prostitution are being forcibly hauled off, arrested, cited, fined, jailed, and generally subjected to an attempt to forcibly destroy their livelihood, the people (mostly men) who are doing all this are actually doing it for the women’s own good.

    In fact these rationalizations are no better than — really, no different from — the rationalizations that every abusive man in the world uses to pass off their controlling behavior and violence against their women as if they were expressions of love. The male-dominated State is nothing more than an abusive sociopath writ large — one that can attack women by the thousands or by the millions, and one with armies and dungeons and trillions of dollars at its disposal.

    As I said last December 17th:

    Any serious commitment to freedom for, and an end to violence against, women, means a serious commitment to ending violence against women who work in the sex industry. All of it. Immediately. Now and forever.

    And that means any kind of violence, whether rape, or assault, or robbery, or abduction, or confinement against her will, or murder. No matter who does it. Even if it is done by a john who imagines that paying for sex means he owns a woman’s body. Even it is done by a cop or a prosecutor who calls the violence of an assault, restraint, and involuntary confinement an arrest or a sentence under the color of The Law. The Law has no more right to hurt or shove around a woman than anyone else does.

    GT 2007-12-17: December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

    This November, eligible voters in San Francisco have an opportunity to call for peace on this front of the city government’s war against women:

    San Francisco would become the first major U.S. city to decriminalize prostitution if voters next month approve Proposition K, a measure that forbids local authorities from investigating, arresting or prosecuting anyone for selling sex.

    The ballot question technically would not legalize prostitution, since state law still prohibits it, but the measure would eliminate the power of local law enforcement officials to go after prostitutes.

    Proponents say the measure will free up $11 million the police spend each year arresting prostitutes and allow them to form collectives.

    It will allow workers to organize for our rights and for our safety, said Patricia West, 22, who said she has been selling sex for about a year by placing ads on the Internet. She moved to San Francisco in May from Texas to work on Proposition K.

    Even in tolerant San Francisco, where the sadomasochism fair draws thousands of tourists and a pornographic video company is housed in a former armory, the measure faces an uphill battle, with much of the political establishment opposing it.

    Some form of prostitution is legal in two states. Brothels are allowed in rural counties in Nevada. And Rhode Island permits the sale of sex behind closed doors between consenting adults, but it prohibits street prostitution and brothels.

    […]

    Police made 1,583 prostitution arrests in 2007 and expect to make a similar number this year. But the district attorney’s office says most defendants are fined, placed in diversion programs or both. Fewer than 5 percent get prosecuted for solicitation, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

    Proposition K has been endorsed by the local Democratic Party. But the mayor, the district attorney, the police department and much of the business community oppose the idea. They contend that it would increase street prostitution, allow pimps the run of neighborhoods and hamper the fight against sex trafficking, which would remain illegal because it involves forcing people into the sex trade.

    […]

    If the proposal passes, we wouldn’t be able to investigate prostitution, and it’s going to be pretty difficult for us to locate these folks who are victims of trafficking otherwise, said Capt. Al Pardini, head of the police department’s vice unit. It’s pretty rare that we get a call that says, I’m a victim of human trafficking or I suspect human trafficking in my neighborhood.

    Associated Press, CNN (2008-10-21): San Francisco may become safe for prostitutes

    While I certainly agree that coerced sex trafficking is an evil that needs to be seriously addressed, government officials and government cops like Captain Al Pardini, who claim to be concerned about the welfare of women forced into prostitution, refuse to talk about ways to address the systemic issues that stop trafficked women from being able to come forward and speak out or seek help about what’s been done to them (like, the State’s violence against undocumented immigrants and the threat of deportation; like, the police’s refusal to take women in prostitution seriously or treat them like human beings), and instead they apparently feel perfectly comfortable insisting that their difficulties in investigating sexual slavery somehow justify laws that grant police the power to force any woman suspected of being in prostitution off the street and into police detention, under police scrutiny, to imprison her, to force her to pay punitive fines, to conduct arbitrary police raids to go on fishing expeditions for trafficked women (e.g., at Asian massage parlors) based on nothing other than racial profiling, and so forth, and so on, all in the name of facilitating the police’s attempts to investigate a different crime that affects some subset of the women being rousted up, shoved around, arrested, questioned, fined, imprisoned, and so on, and all in order to be able to force trafficked women into the protection of the criminal law, with or without their consent. This amounts to nothing more than an argument for ensuring that the State maintains and exercises plenary police state powers over all women suspected of being sex workers, for no reason other than the alleged necessity of protecting some women in the sex industry from violence, while ignoring the many crimes that women in prostitution are never able to report to the police for fear of being arrested, and while ignoring the immense violence against all women in the sex industry that is committed by cops themselves, as part and parcel of this policy of arrest and detention. Nobody would ever accept this argument if it were directed against a class of people whose basic human rights malestream society is more accustomed to granting. (E.g., We need to be able to investigate the enslavement of migrant farmworkers; let’s outlaw farming! We need to be able to investigate medical malpractice; let’s give the cops the power to arrest any doctor and charge them with a misdemeanor!) It is only when it comes to people who powerful men regard as official non-persons that these kind of arguments get made — whether they are made against the safety and freedom of women in prostitution, or against the safety and freedom of immigrants without government papers or unauthorized drug dealers, in parallel arguments for government border laws and drug prohibition. That’s despicable, and it’s baffling to reason. If you have the chance, I’d strongly encourage you to vote Yes on Prop. K, and No on police state tactics and government violence against women.

    I should say that, while I’ve given up completely on electoral politics as a primary vehicle for political change, measures like Prop. K — or Question 1 and Question 2 in Massachusetts, or State Question 2 in Nevada — are a good demonstration of why, if you’re going to put in for electoral politics, voter initiatives and direct votes on referendum questions offer a much better vehicle for doing it than throwing in for the personal political prospects of some favored (or least-worst) candidate for the elective oligarchy that is so fatuously described as our democracy. Proposition K will have a hard time passing — a similar initiative was defeated in Berkeley recently by a 2-to-1 margin — but the mere fact that completely decriminalizing prostitution in a major U.S. city has entered into the political debate, that it is being considered for passage (or. mutatis mutandis, repealing the income tax in one of the highest-tax states in the U.S., or decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, or banning all eminent domain seizures for transfer to private developers in a state with one of the most intensely state-capitalist economies in the U.S.) is an achievement in itself, compared to the way in which representative politics completely smothers all serious politics, by choking off any and all political issues outside of the established bipartisan government consensus on the acceptable range of debate. Voting libertarians take note: if you’re going to spend your time on this stuff, there’s not much hope for making a difference this way, but there’s some, and that’s better than I can say for personality politics and representative elective oligarchy.

    See also: