Archive for February, 2010

SWAT Team Endangers Child, Parents Charged With Child Endangerment

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

SWAT team breaks into home, fires seven rounds at family’s pit bull and corgi (?!) as a seven-year-old looks on.

They found a “small amount” of marijuana, enough for a misdemeanor charge. The parents were then charged with child endangerment.

So smoking pot = “child endangerment.” Storming a home with guns, then firing bullets into the family pets as a child looks on = necessary police procedures to ensure everyone’s safety.

Just so we’re clear.

Ex-New Orleans Cop Pleads Guilty To Massive Cover Up In Post-Katrina Shootings | TPMMuckraker

Friday, February 26th, 2010
Shared by Charles
"A veteran New Orleans police officer pleaded guilty yesterday to orchestrating an elaborate cover-up of a shooting in the days after Katrina in which police gunned down six unarmed city residents, killing two and seriously wounding four. ..."
A veteran New Orleans police officer pleaded guilty yesterday to orchestrating an elaborate cover-up of a shooting in the days after Katrina in which police gunned down six unarmed city residents, killing two and seriously wounding four.

Texas Public Intoxication Laws Allow Arrests Without Intoxication. Or Even Drinking.

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Various jurisdictions in Texas have made news over the last several years for sending vice squads into bars and arresting patrons for drinking. Not drinking and driving, mind you. Just drinking. In a bar.

In a scary piece for Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein delves into just how ridiculously broad and vague the state’s public intoxication laws really are. Exceprt:

The public intoxication standard, backed by the Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is so broad that you can be arrested on just a police officer’s hunch, without being given a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test. State courts have not only upheld the practice but expanded the definition of public intoxication to cover pretty much any situation, says Robert Guest, a criminal defense attorney in Dallas. “Having no standard allows the police to arrest whoever pisses them off and call it PI,” he says, adding, “If you have a violent, homophobic, or just an asshole of a cop and you give him the arbitrary power to arrest anyone for PI, you can expect violent, homophobic, and asshole-ic behavior.”

For some officers, PI has provided a ready-made reason for detaining minorities. A Houston defense attorney, who asks to be unnamed since he specializes in misdemeanors such as PI, puts it this way: “If you’re brown and you’re around—you’re going down.” Nick Novello, a 27-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, blew the whistle on three colleagues who he claims filled their arrest quotas by picking up people, mostly minorities, for PI. “They were illegally arrested,” Novello says. “It’s an absolute perversion.” (Two were removed from the force.)

According to a recent report by sociology and law professors at the University of California-Berkeley, the Dallas suburb of Irving has used “discretionary” public intoxication arrests to fish for undocumented immigrants.

Texas Public Intoxication Laws Allow for Arrest Without Intoxication. Or Even Drinking.

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Various jurisdictions in Texas have made news over the last several years for sending vice squads into bars and arresting patrons for drinking. Not drinking and driving, mind you. Just drinking. In a bar.

In a scary piece for Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein delves into just how ridiculously broad and vague the state's public intoxication laws really are. Exceprt:

The public intoxication standard, backed by the Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is so broad that you can be arrested on just a police officer's hunch, without being given a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test. State courts have not only upheld the practice but expanded the definition of public intoxication to cover pretty much any situation, says Robert Guest, a criminal defense attorney in Dallas. "Having no standard allows the police to arrest whoever pisses them off and call it PI," he says, adding, "If you have a violent, homophobic, or just an asshole of a cop and you give him the arbitrary power to arrest anyone for PI, you can expect violent, homophobic, and asshole-ic behavior."

For some officers, PI has provided a ready-made reason for detaining minorities. A Houston defense attorney, who asks to be unnamed since he specializes in misdemeanors such as PI, puts it this way: "If you're brown and you're around—you're going down." Nick Novello, a 27-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, blew the whistle on three colleagues who he claims filled their arrest quotas by picking up people, mostly minorities, for PI. "They were illegally arrested," Novello says. "It's an absolute perversion." (Two were removed from the force.)

According to a recent report by sociology and law professors at the University of California-Berkeley, the Dallas suburb of Irving has used "discretionary" public intoxication arrests to fish for undocumented immigrants.

Anthony Smelley Will Get His Money Back

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Anthony Smelley was the subject of my February feature in Reason about asset forfeiture abuse. In January of last year, Smelley was pulled over in Putnam County, Indiana for an unsafe lane change and an obscured license plate. After a drug dog alerted to Smelley's car, police seized $17,320 in cash Smelley had brought with him. According to court records, Smelley says he was en route from Michigan to St. Louis, where he planned to use the money to purchase a car for his aunt. Even though Smelley later produced a letter from a Detroit law firm confirming that the money was part of a settlement from a recent car accident, Putnam County moved forward to keep the money, on the absurd theory that Smelley could have used the money to purchase drugs at some point in the future.

To make matters worse, the county was represented not by an elected public official, but by Christopher Gambill, an attorney in private practice who handles several Indiana counties' forfeiture cases on a contingency basis, earning 25-33 percent of what he wins in court, a system stacked with twisted incentives.

I don't know that you could call it a victory, but last week, some 13 months after Putnam County took his money, Anthony Smelley learned he will finally get it back. Putnam County Circuit Court Special Judge David Polk ruled that the stop, detainment, and drug dog search of Smelley and his car were all legal. But Polk also determined that because the police found no drugs in Smelley's possession and because the county presented no other evidence of illegal activity, it is obligated to return Smelley's money.

Under Indiana law, Smelley will not be reimbursed for his time, interest on the money, court costs or attorney's fees.

This is obviously preferable to a decision allowing the county to keep Smelley's money. But it shows just what a rigged game the forfeiture racket is that it took 13 months, two judges, and a hell of a lot of hassle for Smelley to reach the same outcome he should have been granted the moment the police failed to find any contraband in his car.

You can read Polk's decision here.

Lunch Links

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Tenacious in UTNE Reader’s Shelf Life

Friday, February 26th, 2010
an excerpt:

In 2002 a group of women at Oregon’s Coffee Creek Correctional Facility set out to create a zine to stir discussions about the female prison experience, including motherhood, sexual assault, and poor health care. Without access to photocopiers, computers, or other equipment, they needed someone on the outside to coordinate the effort.

They found Vikki Law, who has been involved in prison activism since the mid-1990s, when she started a books-for-prisoners program in New York City.

read more

Morning Links

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Seven and a half things you can do to resist mass incarceration

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Here’s a good article from a while back in The Nation (which I’m mentioning now because I just recently saw it, thanks to the November Coalition listserv). In these days, I’m not surprised to see that it was written,[1] but I am (pleasantly) surprised to see that it got published in a prominent place in an organ of the official Left. In any case, it’s right-on, and well worth reading.

Well, in the parts I haven’t crossed out, anyway. The article was originally called Ten Things You Can Do To Reduce Incarceration, but, well, we’ll see what becomes of that.

The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Criminologists have found that when too many people are incarcerated the crime rate actually increases. Imagine if we spent some of the $60 billion a year prisons cost on education, job training and healthcare. (0) Paul Butler, a law professor, former federal prosecutor and author of Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice suggests ways to undo the damage caused by overincarceration. If you have state specific resources send them to nationtenthings@gmail.com.

1 Do your jury duty. If you are a juror in a non-violent drug case, vote not guilty. Jury nullification—an acquittal based on principle—is perfectly legal. The framers intended jurors to be a check on unjust prosecutions and bad laws. Click here for more information. (1)

2 Pay a kid to graduate. A report by the RAND Corporation found that paying students to finish high school prevented more crime than the toughest sentencing laws. Dropping out of school creates a high risk of ending up in jail. Work with your community group or place of worship to create a program to pay at-risk students to graduate from high school.

3 Come out of the closet about your drug use. War on drugs propaganda says users are bad people. Let your fellow citizens know the real face of the American drug user. Don’t be scared. Barack Obama admitted he used marijuana and cocaine during his youth, and he got elected president!

4 Hire a formerly incarcerated person. Every year about 600,000 people get out of jail. The odds are against their landing a job, which is a huge factor in why more than half will be re-arrested within a year. Go to Hired Network. Go here if you are formerly incarcerated or visit Reentry Policy.

5 Vote for politicians who are smart on crime. (5) Tougher sentences aren’t the answer. In the US criminal sentences are twice as long as those in England, three times those in Canada and five to ten times those in France. And yet crime rates in US cities are higher than in those nations.

6 Just say no to the police. When cops request your consent to pat you down, peek inside your backpack or purse or search your car, you have the right to decline. When they have a warrant or other legal cause to search, like at an airport, they don’t have to ask. Too many Americans—especially in communities of color—are scared to death of the police. Go to ACLU “Know Your Rights” or the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement to learn your rights if stopped by the police.

7 Don’t be a professional snitch. If you have information about a violent or property crime, call the police. Witnessing is fine. But snitches get paid either in cash or a break in their own prosecution for tattling. They make untrustworthy witnesses. Snitches are responsible for almost half the wrongful convictions of people who were later found to be innocent.

8 Talk up the trades. Retail drug selling pays about as much as working at McDonald’s. As the book Freakonomics pointed out, that’s why most drug dealers live with their moms. Many dealers would prefer a more lucrative—and safer—line of work. People who don’t see themselves as “college material” and might otherwise end up on the street should be encouraged to get training for a blue collar trade. Click here for more information.

9 Let accused people discover the evidence against them. There are very few discovery requirements in criminal law. Many defendants in criminal cases don’t learn who the witnesses are—or even get copies of police reports—until the day of the trial. “Open discovery” laws like one Ohio recently introduced will enable criminal defendants to see the state’s evidence against them before trial. (9)

10 Listen to hip-hop. No other aspect of pop culture has considered as carefully, and as personally, the costs and benefits of the American punishment regime. Members of the hip-hop nation often come fr om the most dangerous communities and have a vested interest in safety . They help us understand that treating people who have messed up with love and dignity is, for law-abiding citizens, an act of self-interest and community safety. Visit AllHipHop.com or Hip Hop Caucus to learn the political side of hip-hop.

Here’s the quibbles from along the way.

(0) Well. If we were free to spend some of that $60,000,000 robbed out of our pockets on education, job training, healthcare, or any of the other infinite needs of civilized beings, that would indeed be something to imagine. Unfortunately, I expect that the other means the special kind of “we” here (the kind that means they, a political bureaucracy that ordinary people like you and me have no effective control over). If they spend the money on government education, government job training, and government healthcare, I expect that it will work out as well as anything else government does at propping up big corporations, corralling kids against their will, and otherwise maintaining business-as-usual and the social and economic status quo. Oh well.

(1) This really is an awesome idea, as far as it goes: if you have the opportunity to free an innocent drug-user or drug-dealer through jury nullification, of course I think you ought to take the opportunity. But how often are you likely to get the chance? Given how narrow the context is, this is really important for the individual life you can save, but it’s only going to be something that reduces incarceration in aggregate if it becomes part of a large-scale culture of non-cooperation with the state. In which case (1) really just depends on the kind of cultural change discussed in the other points. Anyway, call it half a thing you can do.

(5) Oh, come on. Really? Of course, I agree that the government’s crime policies are foolish and destructive. But that’s only a reason to go around voting for smarter politicians if voting for smarter politicians changed anything about crime policies or the War on Drugs. Call me back when that starts working for you.

(9) There’s nothing wrong with this proposal, as a procedural reform. But it’s not something you can do to reduce incarceration — changing government laws is something government could do. But if you somehow managed to accumulate the political connections to make the government do what you want it to do, you probably aren’t the kind of person who cares about this sort of thing; and for the rest of us, the you here is really just they, filtered through the illusion of democratic control. In which case, this is something that they could do to reduce incarceration. But of course there’s no reason to expect that they will.

Anyway.

That done, with those items crossed out, this is a really solid list, and does a great job of stressing the importance of moving beyond stupid, stupidifying political reform campaigns, and encourages you to make a real difference for your own life and your neighbors’ lives, by practicing solidarity on the ground, engaging positively with criminalized cultures and criminalized communities, refusing to collaborate with government cops and prosecutors, coming out of the closet, standing up for yourself and your neighbors, and generally working to shift the terms of the debate, to change the culture that fosters sado-statist mass incarceration, and the creation of positive alternatives that change the material condition faced by criminalized people, primarily by means of practical solidarity and person-to-person grassroots mutual aid.

Call it a solid seven and a half. That’s pretty awesome.

[1] Conventional libertarians who don’t know anything in particular about the Left or how it works are rarely aware of how radically anti-state many people of color on the Left really are. There’s a huge practical divide within the Left, roughly between the liberal politicos and white Progressives, on the one hand, and black, Latin@, and other people of color on the other, with the latter putting out all kinds of really amazing, often deeply radical critiques of government policing, surveillance, prisons, drug laws, border laws, papers-please police statism, etc. The white professional-class Progressives and the liberal politicos typically react to this stuff with some nominal agreement, an ill-conceived weak-tea reformist scheme for monitoring the racial demographics of traffic stops or something, without actually reducing any police powers, and then try to move the conversation along to something they really care about, like electing more Democrats or forcing everybody to buy corporate health insurance. But for many Leftist people of color, especially those who identify culturally and politically with Hip Hop, opposition to this kind of racist, classist, law-n-orderist state violence is their primary political concern and their main motivating reason for identifying with the Left. Anyway, if you think that there’s just not any prominent faction on the state Left that you can make any real headway with using libertarian arguments, or if you’re surprised to see articles coming from activistas who identify with Hip-Hop culture calling out mass imprisonment, and calling for jury nullifcation and concerted efforts to refuse cooperation with the police as a solution, you probably haven’t been paying as much attention as you should have.

Fine Teaching Gig You’ve Got Here. Be a Shame If Anything Were To Happen to You.

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

From Mercer Community College in New Jersey, a political science science lecture turns into a lesson on free speech and abuse of power.

The incident occurred on February 1, as Michael Glass, an assistant professor of political science, was lecturing students in a course on state and local politics about New Jersey’s budget gap, according to an account offered by the institution’s student newspaper, The College Voice, and described by Ms. Donohue’s office as confirmed by the college’s own investigation.

Sheriff Larkin came up in the class as an example of public employees who engaged in “double dipping,” by collecting a pension at the same time he received a salary. When a student remarked that he would not know how to spend the more than $200,000 Mr. Larkin was earning annually through salary and pension payments, Mr. Glass allegedly said Mr. Larkin needed much of the money to cover alimony and child support.

A student who is employed at the county clerk’s office promptly sent the sheriff a text message about the comment, and Mr. Larkin soon came to the classroom himself and summoned Mr. Glass out into the hallway for a few minutes. Mr. Glass then returned to the room, introduced the sheriff, and apologized for making disparaging remarks about him.