Category Archives: Freedom of Association

Brandon Duncan May Do 25 to Life for Singing About a Gang

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In 2013, San Diego experienced a rash of shootings.

Brandon Duncan is a San Diego musician. He has no criminal record. He is not alleged to have pulled the trigger, to have been present, to know who was present, or even to have known contemporaneously that the shootings had occurred. He is not alleged to have masterminded the murders, paid anyone to commit them, or otherwise aided in their commission.

Nevertheless, Duncan may wind up doing 25 years to life for the shootings.

The reason?

Sales of an album Duncan made in 2012 may have benefitted from a surge in gang stature and respect in the wake of the shootings.

Duncan apparently creates music about gang activities. As Kevin Boyd reports at IJ Review, the lyrics include one line about holding a gun with no safety and another about a full clip making someone’s top disappear. The tracks can be heard here.

In any case, creating music about violence and criminal activity is not illegal. That is Constitutional Law 101. The First Amendment protects freedom of expression, including violent content in music, literature, art, media, video games, etc.

Mario Puzo could not do 25-to-life if an upsurge in Mafia violence caused a renewed interest in his Godfather novels. He could not do 25-to-life even if prosecutors alleged that his books glamorized organized crime, thereby contributing to an increase in such activity.

That California does not attempt to prosecute authors like Puzo invites speculation that the state is discriminating against certain content and certain genres of art and its creators. Italian-American authors writing fiction novels about Mafia violence are acceptable. African-American musicians creating rap music about street gang violence are not.

Whether or not such speculation is justified, prosecutors claim that Duncan is not merely a musician creating unsavory content. They allege that Duncan is actually a member of a gang based in Lincoln Park, California.

Of course, it is also not illegal to belong to a gang.

That too is Constitutional Law 101. The freedoms of assembly and expression necessarily entail the right to free association. The State of California can neither prohibit Duncan from associating with the people of his choosing, nor punish him for doing so.

But there is yet another dot to connect. Duncan is being charged under a California penal statute purporting to make it a crime to “benefit from” the illegal activities of a “criminal street gang” in which one “actively participates:”

…[A]ny person who actively participates in any criminal street gang…, with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity…, and who willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang is guilty of conspiracy to commit that felony and may be punished as specified in subdivision (a) of Section 182.

According to NBC San Diego, prosecutors explain their theory of this offense as follows:

“If you are a documented gang member, and you benefit from or promote the activities of the gang, you can be held responsible for crimes the gang commits,” the district attorney said.

To be found guilty, prosecutors must prove the suspects are active gang members, that they had “general” knowledge of the gang’s activity and that they profited, assisted or benefited from the activities. The suspects do not have to be directly involved with the crime to be found guilty.

Those benefits could be economic, like album sales, or intangible, like respect, the district attorney argues.

Prosecutors are apparently presenting the aforementioned music lyrics, plus social media pictures, to demonstrate Duncan’s membership in the Lincoln Park gang. They further argue that the sales of his 2012 album benefitted from the 2013 shootings.

Duncan’s defense attorney, Brian Watkins argues that the songs are just artistic expression, and that while Duncan has associated with some members of the gang because he grew up in the same area, he is not himself a member. In an interview with NBC San Diego, Watkins had this to say:

“I mean, to imprison someone for 25 years to life because of artistic expression is something not even the worst communist regimes have done…”

The DA’s office counters that the law was passed by the voters and found constitutional by California’s Supreme Court. That decision was People v. Johnson (2013), wherein the Court analyzed ways in which Section 182.5 diverges from the traditional crime of conspiracy:

[T]raditional conspiracy requires both the specific intent to agree, and specific intent to commit a target crime. … A 182.5 conspiracy does not require any prior agreement among the conspirators to promote, further, or assist in the commission of a particular target crime.

The Court seemingly reassures itself that the intent requirement is replaced with a requirement of “active and knowing gang participa[tion] … with the … intent to promote, further, or assist in the commission of a felony by other gang members.” However, just two paragraphs later, the Court concedes that:

[S]ection 182.5 brings within its ambit not only a gang member who promotes, furthers, or assists in the commission of a felony. It also embraces an active and knowing participant who merely benefits from the crime’s commission, even if he or she did not promote, further, or assist in the commission of that particular substantive offense.

So Section 182.5 dispenses with the traditional intent requirement, replaces it with a requirement that the defendant have been an active and knowing participant in the gang (but not the crime), and then punishes the defendant for receiving any benefit, however intangible, from a crime committed by other members of the gang.

That sure sounds like doing 25 years to life for one’s unsavory associations.

Long-standing criminal statutes already address racketeering, commission of or participation in, conspiracy to commit, or aiding and abetting a crime. What is the need for this particular statute other than to prosecute someone who cannot be demonstrated to have violated those traditional criminal statutes?

Ken White at Popehat reached out to the San Diego District Attorney’s office and reports that:

* The DA’s theory is that Duncan promoted the gang by writing rap music about gang activity, and that he received an “intangible benefit” — their words — by his music becoming more credible or popular. The DA did not present any evidence that the gang’s crimes had any impact on album sales.

* The DA tried to show that Duncan was a member of the gang by some photos of him with gang members throwing gang signs. But they asserted that his rap music also showed that he participated in the gang, one of the elements of the offense.

* The DA’s theory is that when a gang commits a crime all members of the gang automatically benefit for purposes of Section 182.5. That theory, if accepted, would effectively eliminate one of the elements of the crime so that the DA would no longer need to prove that any individual gang member “willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from” the criminal activity.

In short, based at least on reports of their stance at the prelim, the DA seems to be saying that Duncan violated the statute by being a member of the gang and by rapping about the gang.

In the meantime, Duncan said on an interview with CNN that the studio is his “canvas” and that he would love to continue to make music, but:

“[T]hese people have you scared to do anything around here.”

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Oath Keepers Protect St. Louis Until Being Disbanded By The Police They Effectively Replaced

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In response to the looting that has damaged numerous businesses in Ferguson, MO since last Monday’s announceemnt that former police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for killing Michael Brown, a group called the Oath Keepers descended onto Ferguson to protect businesses from being damaged or destroyed by rioters, oftentimes by setting up armed sentries on rooftops. Over the long weekend, St. Louis County’s police officers demanded that the group disperse.

Threatened with arrest for operating without a license, the volunteers argued but eventually left their positions early Saturday, Rhodes said.

“We are going to go back as protesters,” Rhodes said Saturday afternoon.

(…)

“We thought they were going to do it right this time,” Rhodes said of government response to the grand jury decision released Monday in the Michael Brown case. “But when Monday rolled around and they didn’t park the National Guard at these businesses, that’s when we said we have got to do something.

“Historically, the government almost always fails to protect people,” he added.

The Oath Keepers were started in 2009 as a militia-like force that advocates military and law enforcement personnel disobey orders that are in violation of the Constitution of the United States. Despite accusations of racism, they were started in 2009 by a Mexican-American, Stewart Rhodes, who graduated from Yale Law School and once worked for Ron Paul. They have dodged criticism for years and are regarded by some as extremists or domestic terrorists, though they maintain a 30,000 strong member base and are highly regarded among libertarian parts of the Tea Party movement.

I am personally sceptical of the Oath Keepers because I feel their tin-foil, Alex Jones-like views on the government are extreme to say the very least. Any group that gains traction due to the election of one man and finds common cause with the birther movement tends to draw scrutiny. With that said, I find it very hard to blame anyone locally for being very happy to see them. Whatever one’s views on Michael Brown’s killing – I was very dim on the “no indictment” ruling – the fact is that St. Louis County has handled the entire situation in Ferguson and surrounding areas in an illegal, borderline evil fashion. They instigated an already edgy populace from moment one, turning military-grade weapons on the citizens they “police” in a method of crowd control so poorly conceived it raised legitimate questions as to whether or not the police were intentionally trying to rile their citizens.

As the grand jury’s announcement approached, the mistakes continued. It was announced at 8PM CST, with advance warning and a preemptive call for National Guard support. They gunned for a fight, prepared for a fight, and then stoked a fight. Since then, the overly militarized police, and the actual military, guarded the police station but left local businesses to burn. After blaming the failure to indict a man who shot at an unarmed teenager twelve times on social media, they proceeded to protect their own stuff while totally abandoning any pretense of protecting anyone locally. The failures of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments are so legion, so flagrant, and so damaging that multiple people involved in them should never hold jobs in authority again. Their treatment of those doing their job for them only exemplifies what has been a clown car.

In light of that, is it any wonder that the Oath Keepers – at heart, an anti-government organization that is convinced martial law is imminent – would show up? This isn’t just why they were conceived; it proves all of their fears, all of their statements, and all of their actions to be legitimate, or at the very least to have a degree of truth to them. “The government is against the people!” isn’t just the cry of a guy who failed Western Civ; in this case, it’s a provable fact. The police in this area have shown more effort in going after football players than they have in any form of police work.

In striking down the Oath Keepers, the local authorities might have made them more powerful than they could ever imagine. I expect membership to spike, hard.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Self-Ownership, Voluntaryism , and the Non-Aggression Principle as Explained in 2 Videos

In the course of an election year, its very easy to get caught up in the minutia of the various campaigns and election year issues. This is not to say that these issues are trivial; there were very many issues this election cycle which deserved the attention they received.

That said, I tend to think that immediately after an election is a perfect time for reflection. What is it we believe and why? What are our first principles and are we communicating these principles effectively?

I’ve read from various places that we are coming close to a “libertarian moment” or perhaps one is already underway. I do not know one way or the other to what extent this is true but I find that because outlets like Salon, Slate, and Alternet of the Left and a few anti-libertarian outlets on the Right are spending so much energy trying to convince their readers that such a moment isn’t happening quite encouraging. If libertarian ideas were not gaining at least some momentum these outlets would ignore us as in years past.

Of course these outlets do not make any effort to portray our ideas accurately. Its almost as if they go down the list of logical fallacies and hope their readers won’t do any independent research.

So what are the first principles of libertarianism then? This is a very big question, one which libertarians will often disagree. My view is that the first principles are self-ownership, voluntaryism, and the non-aggression principle (fellow TLP contributor Chris Byrne has a slightly different take worthy of consideration).

The videos embedded in this post do an excellent job illustrating these principles, especially for people who are not very familiar with them. The first video, which I have shared on various other occasions, is called “The Philosophy of Liberty.”

Pretty simple right? Share that video with your friends who get their information from Salon. They may still disagree and say that individuals should be looted taxed to promote social justice and egalitarianism but at least they will be exposed to these ideas.

This second video by Stefan Molyneux called “Voluntaryism: The Non-aggression Principle (NAP)” is slightly more advanced taking NAP to its idealistic conclusion (Molyneux is an outright anarchist and makes no bones about it on his podcasts).

Is this all Utopian pie in the sky? Perhaps. Humanity has a long way to go before we can begin to think about beating swords into plowshares. But this does not mean that we can’t each do our part to move in this direction. Upon closer examination, what it really boils down to is following the Golden Rule, only resorting to violence defensively and as a last resort. This principle remains true whether the issue is foreign policy, local policing, or your own home.

Sixth Circuit Decision Upholding Gay Marriage Bans Invites Supreme Court Review

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On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld gay marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky. It did so by reversing lower court rulings striking down the bans. This decision puts the Sixth Circuit out of step with the other circuit courts to address the issue thus far (the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth). The decision is sure to be appealed, and many observers believe it will be the vehicle by which SCOTUS finally weighs in on the issue.

DeBoer v. Snyder was decided 2-1. The majority decision was authored by Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton. Sutton largely argues that the definition of marriage should not be “constitutionalized” and that change should come from the voters. He maintains that the right to marriage recognized as fundamental in prior SCOTUS cases is defined by, and presumes, a relationship between one man and one woman. He rejects sexual orientation as a suspect classification entitled to heightened scrutiny, and frets that constitutionalizing gay marriage will require recognition of plural marriages.

Having found no need to apply heightened scrutiny to the bans, Sutton finds two rational bases for denying marriage to same sex couples. The first involves channeling straight people’s sexual energies into monogamous, legally binding relationships:

One starts from the premise that governments got into the business of defining marriage, and remain in the business of defining marriage, not to regulate love but to regulate sex, most especially the intended and unintended effects of male-female intercourse. Imagine a society without marriage. It does not take long to envision problems that might result from an absence of rules about how to handle the natural effects of male-female intercourse: children. May men and women follow their procreative urges wherever they take them? Who is responsible for the children that result? How many mates may an individual have? How does one decide which set of mates is responsible for which set of children? That we rarely think about these questions nowadays shows only how far we have come and how relatively stable our society is, not that States have no explanation for creating such rules in the first place.

Once one accepts a need to establish such ground rules, and most especially a need to create stable family units for the planned and unplanned creation of children, one can well appreciate why the citizenry would think that a reasonable first concern of any society is the need to regulate male-female relationships and the unique procreative possibilities of them. One way to pursue this objective is to encourage couples to enter lasting relationships through subsidies and other benefits and to discourage them from ending such relationships through these and other means.

The dissent scores powerful points observing that heterosexuals are already free to follow their procreative urges where they will, and that the unwanted children resulting from such unions suffer when their adopted same-sex parents are precluded from marrying. In any case, Sutton’s second rationale for upholding the bans has to do with principles of federalism:

[O]ne of the key insights of federalism is that it permits laboratories of experimentation—accent on the plural—allowing one State to innovate one way, another State another, and a third State to assess the trial and error over time. …. How can we say that the voters acted irrationally for sticking with the seen benefits of thousands of years of adherence to the traditional definition of marriage in the face of one year of experience with a new definition of marriage? A State still assessing how this has worked, whether in 2004 or 2014, is not showing irrationality, just a sense of stability and an interest in seeing how the new definition has worked elsewhere. Even today, the only thing anyone knows for sure about the long-term impact of redefining marriage is that they do not know. A Burkean sense of caution does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, least of all when measured by a timeline less than a dozen years long and when assessed by a system of government designed to foster step-by-step, not sudden winner-take-all, innovations to policy problems.

Indeed, this decision creates a conflict among the circuit courts that did not exist (or at least not clearly) back in October, when SCOTUS declined to hear appeals from decisions in the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth circuits striking down similar bans.

Shortly after SCOTUS declined those appeals, the Ninth Circuit also struck down bans.

Collectively, those decisions were reached in a variety of ways: finding that the bans failed under rational basis review; applying heightened scrutiny to restriction of a fundamental right under a due process analysis; or applying heightened scrutiny under an equal protection analysis based on suspect classification or history of animus. However reached, they had the result of making gay marriage legal in 32 states (with three additional states with bans still technically in effect, which will inevitably be struck down).

That left litigation percolating in the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Eleventh circuits. The decision Thursday by the Sixth was the first to break the prior pattern. Most commentators believe SCOTUS will now accept review to resolve the conflict. As Doug Mataconis, writing for Outside the Beltway, explained:

[T]he most important thing about the decisions in these cases is the fact that it creates the split among the Circuit Courts of Appeals that the Justices apparently felt was lacking when they considered the appeals it acted on in early October. … With this decision, though it can no longer be said that there is not a Circuit split since the differences between Judge Sutton’s opinion and those from the other four Circuits could not be more apparent. Thus, the one thing that didn’t exist on this issue in early October regarding this issue can now be said to clearly exist, and the likelihood that the Supreme Court will accept an appeal to this decision would seem to be quite high.

Only four justices need to agree for SCOTUS to accept an appeal. Assuming one is accepted, Mataconis and others predict SCOTUS will rule that the states cannot regulate gay marriage, by a majority consisting of at least Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, plus Kennedy.[1]

From my own perspective, I do not see how we avoid the leviathan of government once we accept its tentacles are properly applied to the regulation of personal relationships. Even if the collective will was acceptably used to such ends, I have not come across convincing reasons for denying same sex couples access to the same bag of government goodies, incentives and subsidies enjoyed by opposite sex couples. The various theories propounded by opponents of gay marriage are belied by the sound sociological research to the contrary. Plural marriage does not frighten me, both because it does not rise to the same level of constitutional scrutiny as gay marriage—and because it is inherently non-frightening. Finally, I have and will continue to oppose all efforts to force private people, churches or businesses to associate with gay marriages against their will. The same principles that underpin the right to choose a spouse also underpin the right to choose with whom to do business.

I will close with Justice Sutton’s own observation that:

Over time, marriage has come to serve another value—to solemnize relationships characterized by love, affection, and commitment. Gay couples, no less than straight couples, are capable of sharing such relationships. And gay couples, no less than straight couples, are capable of raising children and providing stable families for them. The quality of such relationships, and the capacity to raise children within them, turns not on sexual orientation but on individual choices and individual commitment. All of this supports the policy argument made by many that marriage laws should be extended to gay couples, just as nineteen States have done through their own sovereign powers.

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[1] Kennedy wrote the majority decisions in Romer v. Evans (overturning a Colorado law preventing local governments from enacting anti-discrimination regulations to protect homosexuals), Lawrence v. Texas (overruling sodomy laws), and U.S. v. Windsor (overturning provisions of DOMA allowing the federal government to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages performed by states).

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Freedom, Group Identification, and Consequences

To anyone trying to make the Cliven Bundy issue, or the Donald Sterling issue, or the Brendan Eich issue about freedom of speech…

…PLEASE STOP…

They are unrelated, and MOSTLY irrelevant, to free speech.

None are a question of freedom of speech.

All three are a question of bad PR and violating contract terms.

These idiots are not victims of oppression… at least as far as speech goes.

“Well, that’s just your perspective… this is mine”

No… You can have your own opinions, you cannot have your own facts.

This is not an opinion or a perspective, it is a fact. In making this argument, you are entirely and completely incorrect, in both fact and in principle…

That’s not so bad… it’s OK to be wrong… everyone is wrong about many things, every day.

What IS so bad, and why you must be corrected, is that by passionately advocating such a patently false viewpoint, and making weak and specious arguments to support it, you weaken the very important ACTUAL battle to restore and maintain free speech.

Using bad arguments for your cause HURTS your cause, it does not help it.

There are some very serious threats to free speech in this country, particularly on college campuses and in schools. There are supreme court cases in this session, and coming up addressing these issues right now… and the picture is decidedly mixed.

    We are dangerously close to criminalizing, or at least accepting some kind of official sanction, on “hate speech” in this country. We already HAVE criminalized “suspect motivations”, through “hate crime” law.
    The Government is spying on and intimidating reporters, with the DOJ going after those it perceives as enemies.
    Witnesses are being suppressed out of fear of government retaliation.
    The IRS has gone after conservative political groups, simply for being conservative.
    We have enacted insane regulations about who can say what, when, and with how much and whose money, when it comes to politics and elections.

These are HUGE REAL PROBLEMS.

By equating things which are not about rights and freedoms, to things which are, you weaken rights and freedoms, and make them more difficult to defend.

Freedom of speech means you have the right to say as you damn well please and the government can’t stop you or punish you for it (except in some very strictly limited ways).

It doesn’t mean that private persons or organizations have to publish you, support you, employ you, associate with you, provide you with a forum or an audience, or listen to you.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence.

If you can’t back everything you say, and accept the consequences, then perhaps your problem is not one of lack of freedom, but of lack of courage.

“But… but… political correctness… thought police… BAD”

Yes.

I never said that political correctness WASN’T a chilling force on freedom of speech and even freedom of conscience… Of course it is.

…But that is not the same as government using force against you because of it (though with “hate speech” and things like campus “speech codes”, we have to be very careful of that).

The problem with believing in freedom is that you have to believe in it for everyone, including people you don’t like, or whose ideas you don’t like, or who do bad things with it.

Private individuals and organizations can choose who they wish to associate with freely, and who they wish to support or oppose freely (or at least they are supposed to be able to).

That means both things and people that you like, and things and people that you don’t.

That means you can be fired for expressing yourself. It means you can be fired for your political and social views. It means you can be fired for your private behavior. It means you can lose your customers, your money, your reputation…

In fact, everything but your life, and your freedom.

A free society means we have to put up with that.

We don’t have to like it, but we DO have to put up with it.

And many of us actually have very little problem with it… so long as it’s aligned with THEIR personal beliefs.

Frankly, I don’t see very many “social conservatives” complaining very much when it’s “progressives”, gays, atheists, muslims, “perverts” etc… who experience negative consequences for their beliefs (admittedly, that is certainly not true of all. Some do decry all of this as suppression of free speech and freedom of conscience).

Most “social conservatives” aren’t complaining when church groups or conservative groups try to get certain things banned, or removed from libraries or schools, or have teachers, or school administrators, or abortion providers fired…

…because you don’t like their ideas or how they express them.

…Really, most anyone who you would identify as the enemy, or the “other side” or whatever other outgroup identification it may be…. seems it’s ok to you if THEY have to live with the consequences of their choices, actions, and words…

Most of you are only complaining when it’s happening to those you identify as YOUR ingroup, or for people whose opinions and ideas you agree with.

Again, not always, not everyone… but most.

The same of course is true of “the other side”… starting to see the point yet?

So really… What you’re asking for is not “freedom of speech”, it’s “freedom of speech that you like”, and freedom FROM both speech, and consequence that you don’t.

That’s not freedom. That exactly the same as “the other side”… you just like the opinions better.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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