Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

Armed Customer Kills Armed Robber; Family of Robber May File Lawsuit

In January of 2012, two armed thugs entered a Waffle House in Chesnee, SC. One thing these thugs didn’t account for: the possibility that one or more of the customers might be carrying a concealed handgun. One customer by the name of Justin Harrison saw his opening to act and fired several shots at one of the thugs Dante Williams, DRT.* The other thug, unfortunately, escaped with his life (he’s now the taxpayers’ problem for the next 30 years).  

Tamika McSwain, cousin of Dante Williams, is upset that Harrison “took the law into his own hands”** and that charges were not filed against Harrison for doing so. Due to this perceived miscarriage of justice, McSwain says the family might file a lawsuit. McSwain also contends that more training should be required before someone earns their CWP. Harrison’s CWP instructor David Blanton, however; disagrees.

“Not only was he defending his own life, which the law says he can do [***] but there were other people in the restaurant,” Blanton said.

Harrison, in defending his own actions said “They got the gun, he [Williams] picked it up. He could have said no.”

And that’s the bottom damn line, Tamika: your dirt bag cousin could have said no. Your cousin made a very bad choice and he paid with his life.

Let me further say, I really don’t give a rat’s ass how “sharp” or “goofy” or how much he “loved to dance” or that you think he was “a respectable boy.” On that night at least, he was a thug. A thug who deserved to die. People like your thug cousin are the reason why we need to have the right to carry weapons in public places. I wish people like your cousin didn’t exist at all. In a world without people like your cousin, we could beat all the guns in the world into plow shears. But as long as we do have people in this world like your cousin, we will need guns and people willing to use them to defend the rest of us.

*Dead Right There

**This phrase drives me crazy. The law is always “in our own hands” particularly in a threatening situation like this one.

***Isn’t that so nice of the law to allow individuals to protect their own lives!

One Out of 25 Prisoners on Death Row is Innocent

Benjamin Franklin once argued: “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.” The purpose of courts as drafted in the Constitution was to minimize the occurrences innocent people from “suffering” via an adversarial system in which the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty to a jury of his or her peers.

Regardless of these lofty goals, the question must be asked: how well has this system worked?

If the standard is that of Franklin’s (i.e. less than 1%), then the idea that a rate of 1 in 25 death row convicts are likely innocent is clearly unacceptable. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, to the best the researchers were able to determine, this about what the rate is.

Pete Yost for the Associated Press reports:

From 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of those sentenced to death in the U.S. — 138 prisoners — were exonerated and released because of innocence.

But the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed, says professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, the study’s lead author.

The difficulty in identifying innocent inmates stems from the fact that more than 60 percent of prisoners in death penalty cases ultimately are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. Once that happens, their cases no longer receive the exhaustive reviews that the legal system provides for those on death row.
[…]
Because of various assumptions, it might be best to use the margin of error in the study and say the innocence rate is probably between 2.8 percent and 5.2 percent, said University of South Carolina statistics professor John Grego, who wasn’t part of the study.
[…]
“The high rate of exoneration among death-sentenced defendants appears to be driven by the threat of execution,” says the study. “But most death-sentenced defendants are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment, after which the likelihood of exoneration drops sharply.” The study estimates that if all defendants sentenced to death remained in that status, “at least 4.1 percent would be exonerated. We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.”

I have to say that, even as a fierce opponent of the death penalty, I would have never guessed the number of innocent individuals on death row to be this high. I was horrified by the notion that 1 in 100 or even 1 in 1,000 such individuals could be killed by the state, but 1 in 25?

This brings me to my question for those who support state sanctioned killing: is this an acceptable error rate to you? How many innocent people are we willing to sacrifice in order to kill the most heinous of individuals? Based on this study, the current policy is that we are apparently at peace with the idea of killing 4 innocent people to kill 96 guilty.

This is a price that a free and just country should be unwilling to pay.

LAPD Officers Fire Shots at Innocent People; Taxpayers Punished

Remember the LAPD shooting incident that occurred during their manhunt for Christopher Dorner just over one year ago? The one in which eight LAPD officers fired 103 shots into a vehicle that kinda sorta looked like the one Dorner was believed to be driving but turned out to be two women delivering newspapers without making any threatening moves to justify using deadly force whatsoever?

Though fortunately, both women survived, these eight cops would surely be charged criminally or at the very least never be allowed to work for law enforcement ever again…right? Maybe, maybe not (I have read conflicting reports). Some may be terminated while others may be retrained.

But the very idea that these cops should ever be allowed to have a concealed carry weapons permit (CCW) let alone patrol the streets as police officers is absurd and irresponsible. As outrageous as this determination is, there was actually an effort to clear the officers of any wrongdoing (These cops were dealing with a very stressful situation, after all). Thankfully, Chief Charlie Beck told the Police Commission that the officers should be found in violation of LAPD policy (I should hope this would violate LAPD policy!) at the very least.

The victims of this shooting/attempted murder will be compensated at the tune of $4.2 million plus an additional $40,000 to replace the vehicle at taxpayer expense. Certainly this is the very least the City of Los Angeles could do.

Any time one of these events happen, I can’t help but wonder, what would happen to a normal person who behaved this way? What would be the reaction if eight individuals sans the government issued costumes fired shots into a vehicle because they were feeling threatened by someone and resulted in the exact same outcome?

I think it is very safe to say that all eight would be doing hard time at San Quentin and would be paying damages to the women with their own money. It’s also safe to say that none of the 8 would ever be allowed to own a firearm in the future or allowed to vote if they lived long enough to get out of prison.

And rightfully so.

The government issued costumes should not protect individuals from an irresponsible, criminal act such as this. But unless and until we hold local governments and local law enforcement accountable, these criminal acts will continue and we will continue to foot the bill.

Reason’s Mike Riggs Interviews Radley Balko on Police Militarization

It’s been nearly a month since Radley Balko’s latest book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces was released. Now Balko is making the rounds with the various media outlets about this subject which normally receives very little attention by the media. As one would expect, Balko has more than his share of critics particularly from the cops-can-do-no-wrong crowd but there has also been a quite positive response by at least some members of law enforcement (particularly former cops who began their careers prior to the SWAT era).

In the video below, Reason’s Mike Riggs interviews the author.

(Note: Link above is taken from Reason‘s site, so if you click through and buy it from Amazon via that link, a portion of the proceeds go to Reason Magazine.)

Your Ox Will Eventually Be Gored

It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.

As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.

Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:

The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […]
[…]
African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.

The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.

Tragic chapters such as Tuskegee have been cited as a reason why African-Americans distrust the medical establishment and are hesitant to participate in clinical research. One study found that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical profession, compared to half of white parents.

As I read this, I wondered why there isn’t a similar distrust of the government as the medical establishment by blacks in general. The Tuskegee experiments were done at the behest of the U.S. Public Health Service, after all!

After finishing the article, I decided to read through the comments section (this is a blog that is dedicated primarily with concerns of the black community; the comments can sometimes be very illuminating). The very first comment by a user with the handle “Blackheywood Heywood” did not disappoint:

The US government began spying on Black folks before this government was created, yet it was no outrage.Give me a break, it seems slowly mainstream America is discovering how it feels to be thought of as suspicious or guilty before being accused, never mind arrested. Welcome to the world of the American Black male.

Heywood has a valid point. The answer to the question why the lack of outrage by the black community concerning the NSA and IRS scandals could just as easily turned against what Heywood called “mainstream America.” Indeed, where was the right (for lack of a better term) on these outrages? Where has the Tea Party been on the question of “stop and frisk,” in New York in which minorities are especially targeted to be searched, supposedly at random? Is this simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”

I believe there’s also another phenomenon at work: the memory hole. Near the close of the article, Love mentioned an event that took place in Philadelphia in 1985 I was completely unaware of:

On May 13, 1985, following a standoff, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on the house on Osage Avenue occupied by the black “radical” group known as MOVE. Police reportedly fired on MOVE members as they escaped the burning home […]
[…]
The 1985 bombing—which killed 11 people, including 5 children and destroyed an entire neighborhood of 61 row homes in West Philadelphia—marked the first such attack on U.S. citizens by government authorities. The survivors and victims’ families received $5.5 million in compensation from the city of Philadelphia.

I try my best to be informed about historical events as well as current events. How is it that this is the first I had ever heard about the Philadelphia Police dropping a freaking bomb on a neighborhood in an American city?** I must have been sick that day in American History class (I also didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments until well into my twenties; maybe I was sick on that day as well).

Maybe MOVE was a radical organization maybe it wasn’t*** but nothing could justify the police dropping a bomb on a neighborhood. Perhaps this atrocity is well known by people in the black community, both young and old but not so much outside the black community (or maybe I’m one of the few Americans who never heard about this but I doubt it).

MOVE probably wasn’t the first group the government described as “extreme” to a point where government officials ordered and used military force against its members; it certainly wasn’t the last. How many people out of a hundred know about what happened at Ruby Ridge? The Weaver family, why they were “extremists” after all and therefore, why should anyone care about their rights? How many people out of a hundred know about the conflicting accounts of what really happened at assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? (Here’s a hint: a great deal more than what the MSM reported at the time). I suppose because these people were part of some sort of cult, their rights didn’t matter either!

This is where the real problem of indifference lies. I’ve heard far too many people with the attitude “it’s not my problem” or “it doesn’t affect me”. Even more disturbing is the attitude some people have that they are happy when someone of an opposing view has his or her rights of life, liberty, and/or property trampled on (i.e. “Screw them, they are ‘extremists’”). Far too often, concerns about civil liberties depend on whose ox is being gored at that particular time.

I would like to humbly suggest that if you are not as upset when its someone else’s ox, even if it’s the ox of your opponent’s, one day it will be your ox that will be gored. Perhaps Martin Niemoller said it best in his very short work “First they Came” describing how the Nazis took freedom away from the whole population, one group at a time. By the time the Nazis got around to taking freedom from what remained of the population, Niemoller concluded “there was no one left to speak for me.”

To be clear, I am not comparing the U.S. government to the Nazis. Such hyperbolic comparisons are not constructive and minimize the very crimes against humanity the Nazis committed. I am making a comparison about how populations respond to encroachments on liberty, however. As demonstrated in Love’s article, there are plenty of examples of injustice from American history.

Here are just a handful more:

  • The Indian Removal Act
  • Slavery
  • The internment of Japanese Americans
  • Jim Crow
  • McCarthyism

And many, many more.

Each of these policies were permitted to happen because the majority apparently felt that curtailing freedoms of these minorities would somehow not affect their own freedoms. We should acknowledge that these injustices occurred and try to learn the right lessons (rather than pretend the U.S. government or the American people have committed no wrongs ever) and move on.

Every injustice and every violation of rights of life, liberty, and property must be answered by all of us as if it’s our own liberty that is at stake.

*Yes, I’m aware that Obama is actually half black. However, if a man of his description was accused of committing a crime and at large, he would be described as a black man.

**In light of this, Rand Paul’s questions about government using drones to attack Americans on American soil no longer seem so far fetched, unfortunately.

***All I know is what I read in the cited article.

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