Tag Archives: Ferguson

Bullshit Laws, Fiscal Irresponsibility, and the Inevitability of Police Abuse

Every day fleets of law enforcement officers, from the DEA on down to the local police department, head out onto the streets armed with guns and hair-trigger fears for their own safety.

If they were going to fight the good fight against violence and theft, we could be unreservedly grateful. All too often these armed ingenues, represented by unions, covered by workers comp, and unwilling to tolerate any degree of risk to their person, instead spend their time enforcing petty, bullshit laws that accomplish nothing more than mindless bureaucratic authoritarianism—and revenue for overspent budgets.

Samuel Dubose was missing a front license plate. Walter Scott had a broken brake light. Caroline Small was sitting in her parked car. Eric Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes. James Boyd was camping in the wrong place. David Garcia was feeling suicidal. Zachary Hammond was on a first date with a woman carrying ten grams of marijuana. Freddie Gray was …

Does anyone even know?

These are the “crimes” for which they died.

In July, protestors at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix interrupted Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley to heckle their talking-point platitudes and demand concrete proposals for addressing police abuse. O’Malley, whose tough-on-crime polices as mayor of Baltimore sent its police department into a downward spiral of violence and corruption, had little to offer. Earlier this week Scott Walker, the only candidate in the first GOP debate asked a question on the topic, came up with nothing more tangible than better training, more support, and “consequences.”

Not independent investigators to handle accusations of misconduct. Not better record keeping to identify problematic officers and departments. Not body cams or enhanced protection of the public’s right to record. Not abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing laws that make suspects desperate. Not decriminalizing nonviolent offenses. Not ending the disastrous “war” on drugs.

Some of the protestors, who have continued to interrupt Sanders’ appearances, focus on racism. An independently worthy cause, ending racism is nevertheless not enough to solve police abuse. Racism is a sufficient cause of such problem, but not a necessary one.

No. The problem is you.

You have to stop supporting all the petty laws that can ultimately be enforced only with violence. Sex-for-money between consenting adults. Sale by and to and ingestion of substances by peaceful adults. Jaywalking, loitering, broken tail lights and the myriad thousand other nonviolent offenses that exist for no greater purpose than that the upper castes may express their disapproval of those who achieve less than Stepford levels of respectability.

Every law, every rule, every regulation—from cigarette taxes to fines for broken brake lights to driving without a license to civil penalties for refusing to make a wedding cake—carries with it the implicit edict that you are willing to have officers in uniforms kill people to enforce it.

Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh was sleeping when militarized police threw a flash grenade into his crib during a raid looking for someone who sold $50 worth of illegal drugs. No drugs were found, no arrests made; the suspect no longer lived there.

Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was sleeping when police threw a flash grenade into his crib during a raid looking for a suspect alleged to have sold $50 worth of illegal drugs. No drugs were found, no arrests made; the suspect no longer lived there.

That you are willing to throw flash grenades at babies to keep grownups from ingesting methamphetamine (even though you know once thusly tasked, cops will lie to get those warrants). That you are willing to put that cigarette-tax dodger in a chokehold. That you are willing to kill those Oregon bakers if they won’t pay the fine for not baking the cake, and try to lock their door when the sheriff comes to execute on that judgment. You will risk violence by sending thuggish swat teams into legal medical marijuana dispensaries to terrorize customers inside. You would rather that poor mother with the broken brake light or the expired plates pay her fine to your government than feed her children. You are willing to shoot a man in the head for only having a rear license plate on his vehicle.

You are willing to spend billions packing our prisons, eroding our civil liberties and constitutional rights, and imposing roadside anal probings as the acceptable costs of keeping peaceful people from ingesting the substances of which you disapprove.

To your countenance of such tactics for such ends, add the near irresistible temptation of unearned riches—in an era of profligate spending and mismanaged budgets—and violence is an all but inevitable outcome. Civil asset forfeiture creates perverse incentives that lead police departments to prioritize nonviolent drug crimes, while victims of violence wait weeks for assistance; where crime labs let murder evidence backlog for decades, while drug cases get processed within hours.

Yet the insidious evil of treating citizens like municipal ATM machines takes place on an even smaller level than civil asset forfeiture. An official shake-down system also exists in the form of excessive tickets for petty offenses, doled out to those who cannot afford to fight back (disproportionately poor and minority), and then ballooning and escalating into ever more unmanageable sums until arrest and jail time result.

There are no debtors prisons in the U.S.A. Unless the creditor is the government. Then you’re fucked.

The Justice Department’s scathing report on the Ferguson, Missouri police department documented the disturbing end-game of such practices: a situation where 25% of the city’s revenue came from fines imposed by an unsupervised police force prone to excessive use of force. Jack Hitt at Mother Jones has reported on another Missouri suburb where, in response to a legislative cap on revenue that could be generated via traffic stops, the city enacted a whole host of other petty, bullshit laws (against such menaces as basketball hoops in the front yard, overgrown hedges, disorderly window blinds, and pants worn to low) and increased its non-traffic related arrests by 495%.

For the affluent this may be nothing more than an annoying shadow tax system to prop up an overreaching government that spends so far outside its means it pays tax dollars to research how robot-provided Swedish massage affects rabbits’ recovery from exercise. For the poor, knowing their lives will be ruined by fines they cannot afford to pay, jail time, job loss, and mandatory minimums that destroy families, it is why they run.

It is also why they kill.

Because at its worst, this system of official shakedown invites the very threats that put officers on edge. Dionne Wilson, widow of a slain California officer, understands this only too well. Her husband Dan Niemi showed up to investigate a noise complaint and found himself facing Irving Ramirez, who had a history of drug incarcerations. Carrying both guns and drugs when confronted, and desperate not to go back to jail, Ramirez shot and killed Officer Niemi. Wilson used to wonder why Ramirez was ever let out of prison.

Now she wonders why he ever had to go in.

It is easy to blame the problem of police violence on racist cops with (the gender neutral equivalent of) small dicks and big Napoleon complexes. It is harder to take responsibility for the crap laws and fiscal irresponsibility that make bad cops inevitable.

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

Most Police Abuse Committed by a Handful of Officers

Jonathan Turley at Res Ipsa Loquitur has posted an interesting snippet about a study concluding that the majority of police abuse incidents are committed by a small group of officers:

… A relatively small number of officers are responsible for over half of police abuse claims. We have seen similar results in studies of malpractice cases of doctors. Yet, this small group of officers not only tarnish the reputations of all officers but cost massive amounts of money. …

Law professor Craig Futterman, who runs the University of Chicago’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project, has done some interesting work in this area. His study of the Chicago Police Department found the same officers fueling these costs. It suggests that a better job of self-policing could result in substantial savings for police departments and more importantly greater protection for citizens.

UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz has found similar results.

In the wake of the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and the executions of two officers in New York City in December, it is unquestionably important to keep this in mind. I generally think most of us in the reform movement already know it.

The problem is that we lack confidence in police efforts to police their own. As Turley notes:

…Most cities still resist keeping records that would help identify such officers and track patterns. This would seem to offer obvious areas of reform for departments. We have certainly seen anecdotally that officers involved in controversies often seem to have checkered histories of prior lawsuits or serious complaints. The problem is the political will to implement the academic findings.

The lengths departments are willing to go to remain ignorant of the bad apples in their barrels are reflected in the costs passed on to taxpayers. Chicago paid a half a billion dollars over a ten year period. New York City paid that amount over a five year period. A single division in Los Angeles cost the city $125 million.

Yet Lou Reiter a former Los Angeles deputy police chief who trains police departments on “liability management,” says departments rarely ask themselves what they could have done differently to avoid those costs. Instead they blame the courts or the public for not understanding the difficulties inherent in the job.

Many do not keep records or make an effort to run the numbers to identify the “relative handful of officers” who account for half of all complaints:

While New York City pays the Police Department’s skyrocketing legal bills, the department makes almost no effort to learn from lawsuits brought against it and its officers. The department does not track which officers were named, what claims were alleged or what payouts were made in the thousands of suits brought every year.

What’s more, officers’ personnel files contain no record of the allegations and results of lawsuits filed against them. Neither the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau nor the Civilian Complaint Review Board investigates allegations made in lawsuits, and police officials review only the litigation files of the few dozen cases each year that result in payments of $250,000 or more.

The majority of police officers are innocent of abuse.

But when good men do nothing, evil triumphs.

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

This Advice Could Save Your Life and Preserve Your Liberty

garner

The fact that the police can get away with killing an individual who presented no threat to anyone with the whole incident caught on camera is quite disturbing. A grand jury decided not to indict a NYPD officer by the name of Daniel Pantaleo who used a choke-hold banned by his own department which resulted in the death of Eric Garner. Unlike the incident in Ferguson which contained conflicting testimony and forensics which support Darren Wilson’s version of the event, this event in New York was caught on video from at least two different camera angles (and available on YouTube for the whole world to see). This seems pretty cut and dry at least for an indictment.

So how is it that almost any accused individual brought before a grand jury is indicted unless the accused individual happens to wear a government issued costume? Are grand juries really that biased toward the police? After reading a few dozen comments on threads responding to the grand jury decision, I’m afraid the answer is yes (if you want to lose all hope for humanity, read the comment section to any article of consequence). I reach this conclusion because these are the sort of people who serve on juries and decide that it’s perfectly okay for the police to kill someone if the suspect had any criminal record of any kind, resisted in any way, or even “disrespected” the police on the scene.

The truth is that reforming the way police do things is going to take time as changing people’s attitudes is going to take time. There are things that we as individuals can do here and now so that we don’t become victims of the police, however. Many of these perfect, law abiding specimens of humanity who like to share their wisdom with the rest of us on the internet say that if Eric Garner hadn’t resisted (at all) he would never have been put in the choke hold that contributed or caused his death. On this point, I grudgingly have to agree.

I don’t say this because I believe the use of force against Garner was appropriate but because far too many people do (and juries are composed of people who aren’t always very reasonable).

One common thread in many of these viral videos where the police overreact is that the individual either resists (however mildly), makes a sudden move, or is perceived as being armed [1]. The worst thing you can do is give the cops a reason to use force and an excuse for jurors who will normally give the police the benefit of the doubt a reason to doubt.

So how does one increase one’s odds of surviving an encounter with an overzealous cop? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Before you end your session on the internet today, watch Flex Your Rights’ “10 Rules for Dealing With Police.” I have the entire series and a summary of the rules posted here. If you know how you can respectfully but firmly assert your constitutional rights before the next time you are confronted by the police, you will have advantages most people do not and you will reduce the chances that the encounter will escalate to violence.

2. Act as if the encounter is being recorded and your actions will be scrutinized in front of a judge, jury, and/or the general public. For better or worse, cameras have become ubiquitous, so the chances the encounter is being recorded increase everyday. Use this to your advantage. Better yet, if you have a camera phone, record the encounter yourself. Recording the police in public is legal almost everywhere in the U.S. Follow this link to be sure of the specific legalities of your state. Once you have the camera rolling, follow the aforementioned “10 rules” and be the kind of person a judge, jury, and the general public would be sympathetic toward. If you act like a jerk or are disrespectful in any way (regardless of how the cop acts) this could all backfire.

3. Don’t make any sudden moves and keep your hands visible at all times. If you are pulled over keep your hands on the steering wheel and turn on the dome light if its dark out. When the cop asks for your license and registration, say something like “My license is in my wallet” and very slowly reach for it and hand it over. Then say “My insurance card and registration is in the glove box” then slowly open the glove box and retrieve the documentation. Better yet, have the documentation ready before the cop comes to your window; its less movement and you know you will be asked to produce these items anyway. Had this man followed similar advice, he might not have been shot by a South Carolina State trooper.

4. Understand that you are NOT in control. If the police have decided to put cuffs on you and/or arrest you, do not physically resist, attack, or run. If you do, the results will not end in your favor. Whatever injustice has befallen you will not be settled until later. Also, keep your mouth shut and only speak of the event with your attorney.

Its my hope that these cases which have scandalized us all will lead to better understanding of how we can peacefully resist the growing police state. Its not my intention to blame the victims such as Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Kelly Thomas and countless others but to do my part in not creating new victims of overzealous cops afraid of their own shadows.

[1] Its become a pet peeve of mine seeing headlines that state that the police shoot an “unarmed” man. For one, unarmed does not mean harmless. Also, its probably safe to say that most of the time when the cops shoot an unarmed person, it was unclear if s/he was armed at the time. While we can and should scrutinize the police when they use force, we cannot expect them to have perfect knowledge in real time.

Police should wear body cameras to protect themselves when they’re accused of wrongdoing

camera

President Obama has just proposed $263 million for police body cameras in an effort to improve police relations in the communities they serve. My co-contributor at United Liberty Matthew Hurtt argues that this is an overreaction and cautions that this is “further federalizing local law enforcement.” To this, I have to respectfully disagree.

The federal government has already “federalized” local police if by federalization he means providing military grade toys at a discount. I don’t quite understand how providing tools which can actually protect the public such as body cameras “further” federalizes the police. As long as these departments receive these toys, the public damn well has the right to review in HD quality video and audio how these toys are being used (along with the normal police activities).

The following post was originally published on 8/18/2014 @ United Liberty

 

It sems that there is at least one area of agreement (with caveats) between some in law enforcement and some civil libertarians: cops should wear body cameras. The how, when, and where is still a question for all concerned but at least there seems to be some agreement on the broad outlines.

PoliceOne.com‘s editor-in-chief Doug Wyllie argues that police departments should embrace the idea of body mounted cameras on almost every police officer. Wyllie writes:

In the week following the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson (Mo.), many have asked me for a comment and/or my commentary on the matter. My reply has generally been, “What, precisely, might that comment be? We know very little detail regarding the incident itself, so any ‘analysis’ on my part would be tantamount to irresponsible speculation. Further, analysis of the rioting and looting (and police response to same) would be redundant — we’ve got reams of columns on crowd control tactics and strategies.”

One thing, however, merits mention in this space. It’s directly related to the first thought that came to my mind when news of this tragedy broke: “Man, I hope that officer was wearing a body camera.”

By now, we can correctly surmise that he was not, and it’s a reasonable contention that if he had been wearing a body camera — and that video was examined by agency leadership and released responsibly to the public — Ferguson would probably have been spared the violence and unrest.

Wyllie anticipated that there would be some cops, departments, and PoliceOne members who would disagree with this notion. From there he offered 3 reasons why the upsides outweigh the downsides:

1. Officers’ fears about “Big Brother” are crushed by good, sound policy collaboratively created by all stakeholders — administrators, police unions, civil rights groups, local lawmakers, and others. Citizens’ fears about Fourth Amendment issues — for victims, witnesses, and other uninvolved persons — are similarly crushed by that same policy.

I must interject here. We have street cameras on just about every major intersection in every major city in America. If its good enough to place you and I under constant surveillance, its good enough for the police. The police should also be reminded that they do indeed work for us. Any time the police are on duty and in public, there is a chance that they are being watched by the public. They do not have a right to privacy when they interact with the pubic. This is especially true when the actions of the police have the potential to take freedom or life away from individuals concerned.

Wyllie continues with his other 2 points:

2. Concerns over budgeting for the investment in new gear (and training for same) are quelled by the statistical data suggesting that the outlay in cash is far less than the cost of settling frivolous (and baseless) lawsuits over alleged officer misconduct when no such misconduct occurred.

3. Any argument alleging that “the technology just isn’t there yet” is flat out false. Five years ago, such a statement may have held some water, but companies like TASER International, Digital Ally, L-3 Mobile Vision, and VIEVU now offer rugged, patrol-ready products with high-definition recording capabilities in light, wearable form factors.

Doug Wyllie sees the writing on the wall; he points out that the White House petition for the “Mike Brown Law” which says “all state, county, and local police [should be required] to wear a camera” already passed 100k signatures. Wyllie is probably correct arguing that there would be fewer misconduct lawsuits with the cameras. One PoliceOne member added:

Personally I look forward to being able to show the jury exactly what the POS I arrested was doing, saying and what he looked like when I arrested him; rather than the cleaned up chap in a borrowed suit that the defense brought to court.

I think its also fair to say that cops would be discouraged from being involved with any misconduct in the first place. If we lived in a world where everyone involved in a police encounter is being recorded, everyone involved has every reason to be on his or her best behavior.

Another posted:

I’m all for body cameras. Yet, when they go against what people want them to say, it will be: “The police fixed the cameras.”

To this concern I have two answers. First the technology is already available to determine if a video has been tampered with. If the video shows the video at the 5:07:29 minute mark and then it suddenly skips to the 8:10:12 minute mark, most people are going to understand that there is some missing footage. The second answer is to policy of how, when, and where body cameras will be used.

Will cameras solve all questions of misconduct? Of course not. Cameras certainly have their limitations. But having a video of an event presented to a jury is certainly better than relying solely on conflicting eyewitness testimony.

Point of clarification: One person who commented on the Face Book link mentioned “And audio might be nice.” I assumed Doug Wyllie meant that audio should be part of the video recording as well. After re-reading his article, I realize that he never mentioned anything about audio. Perhaps this too will become a very important part of the debate. It’s my position that audio should be included. Video alone might be helpful in very clear cut cases but distort the meaning of what the viewer sees in other cases.

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

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.

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