Category Archives: Culture

Georgia Legislature to Consider Modest Reforms for ‘No-Knock’ Raids

boubou3

On May 28th, 2014 around 3:00 a.m. in Habersham County, Georgia a SWAT team raided a house the police believed to be occupied by Wanis Thonetheva, an alleged drug dealer. In the chaos of the raid instead were four children and up to four adults. The youngest of the children, 19 month-old “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was burned and permanently disfigured from a flash-bang grenade which set the play pen he was sleeping in ablaze.

No drugs or contraband of any kind was found in the home. Also absent from the residence was the man they were looking for.

Bou Bou was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where he was put into a medically induced coma. Doctors were not sure if the toddler would ever wake up but fortunately, he did.

This is not by any means, the end of the Phonesavanh family’s problems with Bou Bou’s medical expenses around $1.6 million and surgeries into adulthood. These expenses, by the way, that will not be paid by the county or the departments responsible for severely injuring this child.

In the aftermath of this botched SWAT raid, several Georgia legislators are looking to reform the use of “no-knock” raids. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) introduced a bill he’s calling “Bou Bou’s Law” which would require a slightly higher standard for no-knock raids than required by SCOTUS. Bou Bou’s Law would require “the affidavit or testimony supporting such warrant establishes by probable cause that if an officer were to knock and announce identity and purpose before entry, such act of knocking and announcing would likely pose a significant and imminent danger to human life or imminent danger of evidence being destroyed.”

In the House, Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) introduced a similar bill which would go even further by requiring that no-knock raids be conducted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. unless the judge issuing the warrant “expressly authorizes” another time. Tanner’s bill also requires that each department keep records of each raid which would be compiled with all the other records around the state into an annual report which would be sent to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House.

While these are laudable reforms which I would hope would pass any state legislature, these reforms do not go nearly far enough. Several of the articles I read in preparing this post had titles like “No Knock Warrants Could be a Thing of the Past.” In reading over these bills, I’m not quite that optimistic. As Jacob Sullum pointed out at Reason, its not at all clear that Bou Bou’s Law would have prevented the raid from happening. The police at the time thought their suspect was probably armed; it probably wouldn’t take much to convince a judge to issue the no-knock warrant.

As I took another look at Rep. Tanner’s bill, I saw no language that would restrict the hours of the standard knock and announce raids. His bill seems incredibly vague to my lay reading “all necessary and reasonable force may be used to effect an entry into any building or property or part thereof to execute such search warrant if, after verbal notice or an attempt in good faith to give verbal notice by the officer directed to execute the same of his or her authority and purpose”.

Its human nature to stretch and bend language in such a way that is favorable to one’s objectives. I can imagine the police “interpreting” this law to mean they could gently knock on the door at 3 a.m., speaking in a barely audible voice “Police, search warrant open up,” counting 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi, CRASH!

There is some concern by those who think that even these modest reforms put the police in unnecessary danger – police lives matter. I’m of the opinion that ALL lives matter and propose some (admittedly) radical ideas as to how and when SWAT tactics and/or police searches should be used to protect the life and liberty of all concerned:

– If the reason for a surprise raid on a residence is that the evidence could be quickly flushed down a toilet or easily destroyed by other means, then this isn’t enough reason for such a raid in the first place. A couple of ounces of any drug flushed down a toilet is not sufficient reason to put the lives of those in the residence or the police at risk.

– SWAT should not be used at all unless its an active shooter situation, a hostage situation, or credible reason to believe there will be active, armed resistance to the search. Unless there is a very real clear and present danger, leave your military grade toys at the station.

– Each and every police officer involved in the search wears a camera (preferably on the head to have a true POV). All video from the search would be made available to the suspect’s defense attorney.

– The police departments involved are responsible for any and all “collateral damage” to life and property. In the event an innocent life is taken, the individual officer(s) responsible should be treated as anyone else who takes a life. Investigation/prosecution would be conducted by an independent investigators and prosecutors.

– Absolutely no raids or searches of any kind between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. (though stakeouts and other activity which does not require interaction with the suspect(s) during these hours is permissible).

I’m sure that some if not all of these ideas are too radical for many lawmakers. If we really believe that “all lives matter”, however; these proposals should be thoughtfully considered.

If you would like to make a small donation to help pay Bou Bou’s medical expenses, go to this GoFundMe page which has raised nearly $43k so far.

NY Jets RB Learns the Hard Way What Happens When You “Just Cooperate” With the Police

Chris Johnson

With the plethora of news stories about police misconduct, excessive force, non-indictments, and the understandable corresponding outrage to such perceived injustices in the waning days of 2014, certain law and order types thought it proper to offer some advice to stop the bloodshed. Quite simple advice really: obey the laws and/or cooperate with the police.

But maybe instead of “simple” I should say “simplistic.” It seems most of those who offer such advice are middle aged white guys who don’t fit the profile the police look for when they decide to stop someone who “looks suspicious.” Take this jackass by the name of Kelly Ogle for example:

It use to be simple… when you come in contact with a police officer, you do what they say.

Unfortunately, an unrealistic distrust of police officers is being fostered by some protesters, even some public officials, which is disgraceful.

Just “do what they say” and everything will be just fine huh?

Don’t tell that to NY Jets RB Chris Johnson. Johnson was recently pulled over in Orlando, Florida for rolling through a stop sign. According to a source close to Johnson, the police asked permission to search his vehicle. Because Johnson didn’t feel like he “had anything to hide” or wanted to “be cooperative,” he foolishly waived his Fourth Amendment rights and allowed the police to search his vehicle.

What did “cooperating” with the police get him? A second degree misdemeanor charge for having his lawfully owned firearm improperly stored in the vehicle according to Florida law. There’s a good chance that Johnson didn’t know he was breaking the law. As we have heard ad nauseum, ignorance of the law is not a legal defense for breaking the law (unless of course, you happen to be a cop).

Just over a month ago, I offered what I believe to be more constructive advice than that the aforementioned badge worshiper. There is a way to be respectful of the police while firmly and intelligently asserting your rights. It seems that had Johnson followed advice similar to mine than that similar to Kelly Ogle’s, he would likely not have been arrested.

Beyond knowing your rights and knowing how to deal with the police, how is one to know if s/he is committing a crime at any given time? In a country in which the average person commits as many as three felonies every single day (to say nothing of any number of misdemeanors a day), there’s no good answer…at least not yet. There soon may be an “ap for that,” however; if this Kickstarter project called “Atlas” generates enough donations by January 31st (they have a long way to go).

Here’s their promotional video explaining the project:

Even if this project doesn’t quite get off the ground, its good to see that there are people out there thinking about how to mitigate the reality of the numerous criminal laws on the books. But until that day comes, understand that when you are stopped by the police, they stopped you because they have some suspicion that you are breaking a law that you may or may not be aware of. Don’t help them by waiving your rights (“just cooperating”) as Chris Johnson did. You can’t assert your rights if you don’t know what they are. Now that you have found these links (here, here, and here), there is no excuse for ignorance of these rights.

Defense of Charlie Hebdo Must Be Absolute

I support the right to publish offensive things without limitation, qualification or exception.

There is no “but.”

Defense of the right to satire unmolested by violence and coercion must be absolute, unequivocal and unqualified.

There can be no “but.”

There can be no “but” because one man’s outrage is another man’s art.

Just ask Serhat Tanyolacar.

This image was published by The Onion on September 13, 2012, under the headline "No One Murdered Because of This Image."

This image was published by The Onion on September 13, 2012, under the headline “No One Murdered Because of This Image.”

The image to the right may, at first glance, be seen as an insult to the religions whose figures are depicted. Upon second glance, we might see in context that the image pays compliment to those religions, while the insult is instead to the one whose Prophet was omitted.

Vulgarity in satire becomes provocative think piece.

The same Charlie Hebdo images deemed racist by some are interpreted as mocking racism by others. There is no right or wrong answer. Subjectivity is inescapable; offensiveness being in the eye of the beholder, the only way to avoid it is not to speak at all.

A Charlie Hebdo cover: "If Muhammad returned."

A Charlie Hebdo cover: “If Muhammad returned.”

I find some of Charlie Hebdo’s images grotesque and unpalatable, others almost touchingly sweet. I interpret the one on the left as a defense of Islam against those who would distort it with their violence, and the one below as a heartfelt insistence that our common humanity will prevail over all differences.

Others will look through the lens of their own perspective, find different meaning in the same images, and take offense or not accordingly.

It changes nothing.

There can be no “but” because freedom has no meaning if we censor ourselves based on the dictates of any conscience but our own.

A Charlie Hebdo cover: "Love is more powerful than hate."

A Charlie Hebdo cover: “Love is more powerful than hate.”

Freedom left politely unused cannot be shown to exist, and courtesy and restraint become the foundation on which we build our own cages.

The battle between those who would be free and those who would be reverent is not between different races and religions, between east and west, or between nation-states. It is a battle between those who love freedom, in all its messy, imperfect glory, and those who would spill blood in pursuit of their own personal utopia.

We must never fail to love our liberty more than they hate it.

Those who qualify their defense of freedom with any “but”—but we ought not mock religion; but we ought mind our own prejudices and hypocrisies; but we ought not be surprised when the profane elicits violence—are trying to straddle a fence that cannot sustain the mighty weight of such freedom.

There can be no “but,” because the stakes are too high.

A war not fought with words and ideas, however cutting, will be fought instead with drones and bombs. Rewarding the murder of satirists with suppression of images, rather than publication of a thousand more, foregoes the peaceful power of the Streisand Effect in favor of enhanced interrogation.

Those who would be free, of every race, religion or nationality, must form a circle of defense around the indefensible. We must give rein to that rebellious voice inside that whispers, If you tell me I must not do something, I will do it to prove I can. We must value freedom over respect, not just when it is tasteful and without cost, but always.

Every. Time.

It is where we stand in the hard cases that defines us.

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

Gawker Fingers a Democrat as Lena Dunham’s Alleged Rapist

Lena Dunham

Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter has revealed the real name of a real human being who Trotter hypothesizes might really have raped Lena Dunham, as she described in Not That Kind of Girl. I think he was wrong to do so and will not repeat it here, or link to the article.

Suffice to say that Gawker previously obtained a copy of the book proposal Dunham submitted to her publisher. The identifying details set forth in the proposal were different than the details included in the published book. Using a combination of both, Trotter was able to identify a former Oberlin student who could be the person described.

That person, however, is not a Republican or a conservative, but a registered Democrat. I confess to finding this discrepancy interesting. Dunham called her alleged rapist “a mustachioed campus Republican” and “the campus’s resident conservative.” I interpreted her repetition of that detail, as it was reported in the media, as intending her audience to make some connection between the young man’s party affiliation and his alleged conduct—and to generalize that conduct toward others who share the affiliation.

Perhaps I was mistaken to assume that Dunham or her supporters harbored such an intent. Perhaps changing this detail might simply have been an effective and innocuous way to obscure the man’s identity. I cannot know. Regardless, of whatever interest it may be, it does not justify naming an actual person who may be guilty of nothing more than serving as source material for a composite character.

Have we learned nothing from the UVA rape story?

Dunham and her publisher have already had to apologize—weeks after he had been identified—to an identifiable campus conservative named Barry (the name Dunham used in her book). Why drag yet another person, presumed innocent in the absence of a conviction, into this?

By Trotter’s own admission, the motivation is to push back against “right-wing” questions about Dunham’s story:

Following the clues in the published text, Dunham’s antagonists have declared that the rape story is a hoax, one that falsely implicates a fellow student. The investigation has led Dunham’s publisher to announce a revision to future editions of the book—confirmation, to her foes, that she is lying, and that her alleged rapist doesn’t exist.

Most mainstream outlets have covered the details of the case with trepidation, if they cover them at all, allowing the central claims of the right-wing account to stand unchallenged. But the investigators aren’t just distasteful. They’re wrong.

In other words, Trotter has an agenda. He wants to exonerate Dunham from suggestions that she fabricated her story, even if that means convicting someone else of rape.

What qualifies Trotter to make this determination? Is he a judge? A lawyer? A sworn juror, having viewed the credibility of the witnesses on the stand and been instructed with the governing law? Was the accused given a defense, an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against him, and access to exculpatory evidence?

If Rolling Stone’s infamous UVA rape story has taught us anything, it is that people sometimes lie. They lie about unpredictable things and for unpredictable reasons. Their reasons for doing so are as many and myriad as they are. To insist that women never lie about rape—or at least not often enough to matter—is to reject the range and variability of the experience of being female.

This is not to say that Lena Dunham is lying.

Unlike the person named in Trotter’s article, she laid her story out for public scrutiny and made a lot of money in the process. She injected politics into it—wittingly or not—by focusing attention on the man’s party affiliation. She took her time clearing the name of the identifiable campus conservative whose name matched the one used in her book.

Nevertheless, she deserves the same presumption of innocence as the person named in Trotter’s article. Dunham made a clear effort—based on Trotter’s own reporting—to protect the identity of the person she alleges raped her. She made an unequivocal (albeit slow coming) statement clearing the name of the man others had previously identified. She is entitled to write a memoir that is based on true events or that uses composite characters.

I am in no more position to judge her false than Trotter is in position to name someone a rapist as part of a quest to exonerate Dunham against “right-wing” challenges. His doing so, for that stated reason, is not journalism. It is trauma advocacy and cultural arbitration, at the price of a fellow human being.

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

Quote of the Day: A Question for “Pro-Life” Death Penalty Advocates Edition

Matthew DesOrmeaux over at United Liberty poses a very important question to those in the “pro-life” community who support the death penalty. This question comes in response to a South Carolina judge vacating the conviction of George Stinney Jr. who was executed at the age of 14 in 1944.

Is the execution of an innocent person, even a child, enough to undermine faith in the criminal justice system as a whole, and capital punishment in particular? If one error is not convincing enough, is there some acceptable level of innocent life ended at the hands of the state (or their peers, if that makes you feel better) that would change your mind? Or is the (spurious) deterrent factor of the death penalty or faith in the process, regardless of further evidence, so strong as to make all wrongful convictions and executions irrelevant?

I’ve already seen one person respond in the comments section to the effect “Well that was during Jim Crow [1]; our criminal justice system is so much better now.”

Even as cynical as I am about the American criminal justice system, I believe it’s fair to say that there has been some improvements since 1944. I cannot imagine a 14 year-old being executed in 2014 (someone with the mental capacity of less than a 14 year-old…sadly yes but not an actual 14 year-old). DesOrmeaux’s overall point is relevant as the National Academy of Sciences found that currently 1 in 25 death row prisoners is innocent.

With the learning curve so steep for supporters of capital punishment, at this rate it will be 2074 by the time a Texas judge admits that Rick Perry allowed (likely innocent) Cameron Todd Willingham to be executed on his watch.

[1] For what it’s worth, George Stinney Jr. was black.

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