I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the situation in Baltimore and the very state of our culture. This Facebook status update I came across yesterday is very worthy of repeating here.
I really wish people would stop posting Freddie Gray’s criminal record, as if that makes him deserving of having his spine broken while in police custody, killing him. You can’t claim to be a supporter of constitutional rights, yet care nothing of Freddie Gray’s rights. This brother was no less deserving of his life than any white collar criminal. I don’t support rioting & looting, but I also won’t support those who think his life was worth less than the next person, or that he got what he deserved. He was the victim in this case, and his record is irrelevant… – Talitha McEachin
Agreed. Unless Freddie Gray presented a presented a threat to the lives of the police officers while he was in custody*, the police had no right to use the force they used that ultimately ended his life. Whether he was arrested one time or a thousand has nothing to do with how Gray was treated.
*Of course at this point, we don’t really know what happened while Gray was in custody. This is yet another argument for the notion that each and every moment the police are interacting with a suspect that these interactions should be recorded and made available (eventually) to the public. There’s simply no excuse for this not to be the policy of every police department in 2015.
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.
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 . 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.
 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
We do not have leaders in the United States of America. We have representatives. They are chosen by us to do a job for us. They are our employees. We do not owe them any respect or subservience beyond the same basic respect we choose to show fellow human beings, and in particular those who are our employees.
And we have a right to watch them.
Yet at all levels of government, we face rebellion against our right to watch.
STATE LEGISLATURE IN THE NEWS FOR VIOLATING OPEN MEETING LAWS
One of the Republican candidates for my state’s legislature actually came to my door twice this election cycle in an effort to earn my vote. Even had I been otherwise inclined to vote for him, his refusal to answer voter guide questionnaires would have been a deal-breaker.
He explained at my door that politicians who answer voter guide questions are sometimes “discriminated against for their religion.” Only by questioning him on my porch was I able to elicit his position on issues from gay marriage to the War on Drugs—which he supports because “we need to be moral.”
He won handily without my vote and is now a state senator. His counterparts in the state House have just made news by, once again, being accused of violating Montana’s open meeting laws. Earlier this month, the House Republican Caucus met in the basement of a hotel without providing the requisite notice. During the 2013 session, the Caucus similarly met in the basement of the state Capitol without posting notice.
The state media have been quick to point out that both parties and both houses of the state legislature routinely violate the state’s open meeting laws. The interviews with the politicians engaged in such violations are candid and telling. One Democrat senator, for example, detailed how rather than simply post the notice and allow reporters to cover the event, his party would instead make just enough people leave to be under the limit of the notice requirements:
“We were always mindful of the numbers,” added Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman. “And when we realized we were over the limit, someone would leave.”
One of his Republican counterparts lamented that the open meeting requirements make it “impossible” for elected politicians to talk to each other:
Where do you draw the line?” he asked. “How does a group function if they can’t get together and talk to each other? This is supposed to be a country of freedom of association and freedom of speech. If you’re going to take that away at a caucus, how is the caucus going to function?”
He does not seem to understand that the caucuses can still talk, even if the people they work for are listening. If they do not want the voters to know about it, perhaps they ought not be doing it.
POLICE DEPARTMENTS RESIST BEING RECORDED
On Saturday night, Ferguson police arrested a member of the press, apparently for standing on a sidewalk. This comes in the wake of federal court orders directing that Ferguson police not engage in any practice of interfering with citizens’ right to record police. These orders were obtained based on events following the death of Michael Brown, in which police detained journalists, wrongfully interfered with people recording the protests and police response, and instituted a no-fly zone to prevent the media from flying over.
Both cops and citizens behave better when they know they are being recorded. Recordings exonerate innocent people who have been wrongfully accused and help ensure that the right people are punished. As Reason’s Ronald Bailey has reported:
Earlier this year, a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. Watched cops are polite cops.
Police officers are not our overlords. They are public employees hired by the people to enforce the laws passed by the people. Like any other employer, We, The People, get to watch the work done by our employee police officers.
In the wake of an embarrassing revelation about an “unacceptable” mistake inflating the total enrollment numbers, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has ordered her agency to come up with ways to increase transparency. I hope she follows through.
But the “most transparent administration in history” has a mixed record on living up to its own hype. Lingering questions remain about the transparency of the drone program. Just this week, the administration continued its established practice of dumping thousands of new regulations on the eve of a major holiday.
Let us not forget that last month, USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page called this administration “the most restrictive” and “most dangerous” to the press than any other in history. She echoes sentiments expressed earlier this year by New York Times editor Jill Abramson, who said the Obama administration is setting new standards for secrecy:
“The Obama years are a benchmark for a new level of secrecy and control,” says Abramson. “It’s created quite a challenging atmosphere for The New York Times, and for some of the best reporters in my newsroom who cover national security issues in Washington.”
* * *
Those that are covering national security, according to Abramson, say that is has never been more difficult to get information.
* * *
Abramson says that the Obama Administration uses legal loopholes to make things difficult for journalists and media organizations. She says, for example, that the Obama Justice Department pursues cases against reporters under an obscure provision of the 1917 Espionage Act.
“I think, in a back door way using an obscure provision of an old law, they are tip-toeing close to things that, here in the United States, we’ve never had,” says Abramson.
* * *
While Abramson says that the White House hasn’t completely shut out the U.S. press corps, even routine media coverage has become difficult to obtain.
“The amount of friction and confrontation involved in just going about what I see as perfectly normal coverage, that in the past wouldn’t have even provoked a discussion, becomes a protracted and somewhat exhausting process,” she says.
As technology and government overreach continue to threaten the walls of privacy that traditionally protected Americans, we must be vigilant in making sure the watchers are themselves watched. They are not leaders, but employees. We should demand that they conduct themselves as such. That entails consistently subjecting their official conduct to scrutiny.