Archives For Ferguson

Chart Of The Day

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 8 2014 @ 1:19pm

Grand Juries

Aaron Blake highlights a poll finding “that 60 percent of Americans disagree with the lack of an indictment against officer Daniel Pantaleo”:

Although 40 percent disagree “strongly” with there being no indictment in Garner’s case, just 24 percent say the same about the case in Ferguson. And in Ferguson, there’s majority support — 52 percent — for no indictment. So basically, Americans as a whole favor no indictment in Ferguson. In Garner’s case, they overwhelmingly think there should have been one. And in fact, just one-quarter of Americans agree with the grand jury’s decision not to indict.

This suggests, does it not, that the gloomiest assessments of America’s ability to see through race are too dire. If we were truly racially polarized, we’d see similar responses to similar white-cop-black-victim scenarios. Which means we have some common ground to stand on.

Uri Friedman talks to criminologist Barak Ariel about the impact of putting body cameras on officers:

The technology is “surely promising, but we don’t know that it’s working,” Ariel told me. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t approve drugs until they’ve been studied extensively, he explained, and governments should take a similar approach with body-worn cameras. It’s a solution that has yet to be proven.

Ariel should know. He’s currently researching the effects of body cameras on policing everywhere from Brazil to Ghana to Israel to Northern Ireland, and finding that some police departments (and police unions) love the idea and others hate it. Nearly all of these tests have yet to be completed, but Ariel recently co-authored a study on the practice in Rialto, California, where he found that police officers who weren’t wearing cameras were twice as likely to use force as those who were. During the 12-month experiment, the police department also saw a reduction in citizens’ complaints compared with previous years. The researchers concluded that the benefits of wearing cameras trumped the costs.

But Ariel insists that there isn’t enough evidence so far to generalize the finding and assert that body-worn cameras offer a net benefit to community policing.

Jason Koebler contends that “lack of indictment in the Garner case doesn’t fundamentally change the police body camera argument, and shouldn’t be used as an argument for or against body cameras one way or another”:

Body cameras are not a cure-all, and they don’t treat the underlying problem of police brutality or power tripping. But, well, they’re better than nothing, and they’re a good first step toward creating a culture where cops think before they act.

The main thrust of the argument behind police body cameras has never been the idea that video evidence can be used to convict a cop of murder in court or even that they can be used as evidence at all. Instead, body cameras create an environment where police intrinsically know they are being watched, that there’s at least the possibility that they’ll be held accountable for their actions.

Rebecca Leber spells out why video evidence often doesn’t make a difference:

Police still have wide leeway for using deadly force. Juries remain deferential to officers’ judgements of when to incapcitate a person or fire their weapons. As Amanda Taub has explained at Vox, “That means that to press criminal charges in a police shooting, the prosecutor has a heavy burden to overcome. The officer is likely to claim that he believed the suspect was a threat and made a split-second decision to use force. The jury is likely to believe him, even if his decision was a bad one.” At The Nation, Chase Madar pointed to the case of Kajieme Powell, John Crawford III, and Milton Hall, all of whom were shot by police and all of whose deaths were filmed on camera. None resulted in charges.

In other words, body cams can helpbut they still don’t entirely fix police abuse. Juries still show officers extreme deference, even when police violence gets caught on tape.

Matthew Pratt Guterl reflects on the countless videos of police brutality circulating online:

[T]hese videos do more than simply provide convincing evidence for lawsuits. They show the willful resistance and inventiveness of poor and racially marginalized Americans. In settings that are emotionally charged and dangerous, ordinary people are acting as interpreters and recorders of historyof police brutality racism, yes, but also of our cops’ post-9/11 militarization and depersonalized policing strategies. There are other cameras out theredispassionate security cameras and dashboard cams, and body cameras showing the police officer’s perspectivebut witness videos are as close as we, the viewers, get to the victim’s perspective. While the cameras stop nothing, they do allow us to see.

Douthat fears that “from the point of view of actual persuasion, as opposed to just mobilization — of reaching people who don’t follow these issues closely, or who might generally incline toward a different narrative, more pro-cop or just more pro-status quo — Ferguson is turning into a poor exhibit for the policy causes that it’s being used to elevate”:

My worry, therefore, which I tried to get at in the column, is that because the facts on the ground don’t clearly fit the policy narrative they’re being tied to, and may not fit at all, Ferguson and its aftermath are going to be too polarizing to effectively serve the kind of meliorist consensus — uniting a lot of religious conservatives and libertarians with liberals and the left — that’s been gradually emerging around criminal justice, drug policy, and related issues over the last five or ten years.

Digby highly doubts that bipartisan cooperation on criminal justice was ever in the cards:

The bill that seems to have everyone feeling so positive about bipartisan comity is the Smarter Sentencing Act, which has the backing of such disparate groups as the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation.

Ted Cruz says he’s for it too. It basically will give courts more discretion in sentencing and lower the daft mandatory sentences for drug crimes from 20-, 10- and five-year mandatory minimums to 10, five and two years. Considering the tremendous overcrowding in federal prisons this seems like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, there are a few roadblocks. Sen. Chuck Grassley thinks mandatory minimums are an important crime-fighting tool. And for reasons of their own, Sens. John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions are likewise opposed. But perhaps the biggest obstacle to any kind of bipartisan criminal justice reform (that makes any sense) is the fact that the Republican base is not only strongly opposed to it, GOP political consultants would be deprived of one of their most potent lines of attack. (And, just as likely, Democratic challengers would cynically use it against them.)

When push comes to shove, this is the evergreen Republican go-to election attack. We saw it just recently in the fall campaign.

John Dickerson, meanwhile, wants a GOP presidential contender to give a speech about Ferguson:

As my colleague Jamelle Bouie pointed out on the Slate Political Gabfest, the most effective speech any politician could give in the wake of the Ferguson verdict might be one given by a Southern Republican. If a Republican, whose party benefits from the overwhelming support of white voters, could serve as a witness, at some level, to the feelings of distrust and anger within the black community, it might contribute to the conversation so many people say we should be having. It would not require abandoning values or offending their core constituency. Such a speech could even eclipse whatever President Obama says on a visit to Ferguson, given that he is hemmed in by the responsibilities of his office and the political crust of the past six years.

Of course, a potential GOP presidential candidate might choose an entirely different path. Instead of offering an example of bridge building, he might decide that the requirement after Ferguson is to defend the police force against a media that has convicted an officer trying to do his job in a brutal environment and speak up for the 61 percent of Republicans who in August thought race was getting more attention than it deserved, according to a Pew poll. Whichever route a candidate takes, such a speech would certainly distinguish him, and almost every future candidate wants that right now.

Walking While Black, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 2 2014 @ 10:20am

Readers add further nuance to the viral video we posted:

Thank you for updating your post with the sheriff’s comments.  (And since the person in question was originally identified as “light-skinned”, it’s not clear that being black was ever the issue.) Pontiac, Michigan is a city where the County sheriff patrols because there is no longer a local police force. A parent from our kid’s school was shot dead while minding his shop. For awhile, it was normal, driving through Pontiac, to have to sit in one’s car while the car in front of you executed drug deals with people on the street.  It is a place that was at one point, quite literally, lawless.

In that video, a shopkeeper, having been robbed more than once before, called the sheriff when something looked suspicious, and the sheriff came.  Once there, he was calm and respectful, and did his job responsibly.  In Pontiac, that is just absolutely awesome.

Another points to a 2009 incident in which Bob Dylan was similarly stopped by cops and asked for his ID:

Not all neighborhoods like people walking about.

It’s like there’s something wrong with you. Why don’t you have a car? Why are you walking? In the place I grew up – very blue-collar burbs – people simply did not walk. Then I moved to NYC, and since that time I never want to live in a neighborhood where you can’t walk. All people should feel comfortable to walk down the street, hand in pockets or whatever, but the guy in the video was right to note the absurdity of the person who made the call in the first place. At least the guy and the officer were able to discuss it without anything horrible happening.

Another notes a website we’ve featured before:

While I appreciate your sentiment that “more black men need to bring their cell-phones to these police interactions,” you should note that recording police puts the people with the recording devices at risk. There’s a great website called PhotographyIsNotACrime.com that has documented literally hundreds of incidents of police abusing, arresting or assaulting people who have tried to exercise their First Amendment rights to record or photograph the police. If black men started routinely recording interactions with the police, then that would escalate the risk to those black men.  Just to pick three stories from the last few days – here, here, and here. (Those are literally the top three non-Ferguson stories from the “recording the police” category as I type.)

Another pans out:

I think we’re missing a drama that accentuated part of the issue over the last few days. I’m a 60-year-old engineer visiting San Antonio on business. Last week, as you may know, a white guy shot up downtown Austin, targeting the Mexican consulate, the US courthouse and the Austin PD building before being killed by police. Today I was having lunch with a coworker who lives in Austin and had been visiting Philly last week. When I mentioned the shooting to him, he hadn’t heard of it, even though he LIVES in Austin.

In the last few years, over a dozen white, right-wing anti-government terrorists have targeted police officers resulting in the deaths of over 10 cops. Yet this is so invisible even people living in Austin don’t know about it. When I mentioned this to a buddy of mine, a white conservative cop, he waved it away saying criminals killed more cops than white terrorists have.

It’s obvious the blinkers are on, EVEN AMONG COPS. Yes, criminals kill cops, but can you imagine the outcry if a dozen cops had been killed by Muslims? The St Louis Police Officer’s Association demands an apology from football players for raising their hands in sympathy with the Brown family, but where is the outrage against the Republican officeholder who said she’d kill government officials who “tried to take away her rights”? Where is the outrage against the NRA that enables military weapons to be openly sold in the US (and they get around this by saying weapons like the AR15 aren’t “military”.)

Cops ARE being targeted by the right. Cliven Bundy was proof. He was a hero until his racism was too strident even for the right. Yet the cops still ignore the threat posed by right-wing terrorism and, instead, shake down black US citizens who walk with their hands in their pockets in the winter.

New York City Public Advocate Displays Police Wearable Cameras

Zeke Miller details Obama’s planned executive orders:

President Barack Obama is preparing to issue an executive order to calling for additional oversight of various federal programs which provide military surplus equipment to local law enforcement agencies, senior administration officials said Monday, but will stop short of banning the transfer of heavy gear to police forces. …

Obama will also announce a three-year $263 million package to increase the use of police body-worn cameras and expand local law enforcement training. The program, modeled after a similar program for bullet-proof vests for officers, would provide $75 million over three years for the “Body Worn Camera Partnership Program.” Administration officials said it would provided a 50 percent match for body-camera purchases by state and local agencies, enough for 50,000 new cameras. Officials said they hope to secure about $70 million in funding for the effort as part of a government funding deal that must be reached in the coming two weeks.

George Condon Jr. views the announcement as yet another example of Obama’s “trademark caution”:

He was cautious about the use of surplus military equipment by domestic police forces, promising to make it more transparent so it can be studied. He was cautious on police behavior, promising to work with Congress to pay for more body cameras to be worn by cops on the street. He was cautious about the Justice Department’s role, announcing that the outgoing attorney general will “convene a series of these meetings all across the country.” And he was cautious in falling back on that most familiar of Washington responses—a task force to further study the situation.

Scott Shackford is skeptical that the president is really committed to de-militarizing the police:

The White House promised to study police militarization in the wake of how various law enforcement agencies in Ferguson, Missouri, responded to the peaceful protesters, not just the aggressive or criminal ones. What comes out of the report is a call for better documentation and transparency, and an easily supportable demand that local governments must actually review and authorize acquisition of the “controlled property” military equipment (guns and vehicles) by law enforcement agencies.

What the report doesn’t recommend is scaling back the programs in any notable or significant way. It appears as though the White House is trying to have it both ways on police militarization, calling for reforms without having to tackle the issues surrounding whether it’s actually necessary.

Trevor Timm is more blunt:

Obama said he wants to avoid building a “militarized culture” in police departments, yet his White House report claims all the militarization programs are “valuable” to law enforcement, without going into any detail of where that value has actually been shown. For example, when was the last time a local police officer drove over a fucking mine? Why would neighborhood cops ever need Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) that were meant to protect soldiers against IEDs in Iraq? The White House’s four months of “research” into federal funding simply does not venture to explain. Nor does it explain any use for any of the Pentagon’s weaponry now in the hands of our local police.

Emily Badger argues along the same lines:

[B]y calling for local police to receive more training — including on civil rights and civil liberties — when they receive military-style equipment, the review leaves unasked the question Obama’s own earlier comments seemed to raise: Is it even a good idea to give it to them?

Joshua Brustein focuses instead on the body cams fund, which could “almost double the number of cameras in use in the country”:

The White House’s support of cameras isn’t a surprise. In the days after Brown was shot, a petition on WhiteHouse.gov in support of legislation requiring all state, county, and local police to wear cameras gathered nearly 155,000 signatures. Roy Austin of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council posted an official response that described years of work by the administration to advance the use of body-worn and dashboard cameras. Police departments have long been coming around on cameras, but progress is slow. Adopting police cameras requires thousands of independent agencies coming to terms with thorny privacy and accountability issues.

Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, says that the biggest barrier is cost. The White House will match the spending of local and state agencies who decide to buy cameras, mirroring a similar federal program that has led to the purchase of over 1.1 million vests for law enforcement agencies. The money won’t come without strings attached: Bueermann expects a requirement that every officer in participating departments wear a camera at all times while in the field.

Rich Lowry recommends a different reform:

The most needful reform in Ferguson and surrounding communities, per the excellent reporting of Radley Balko of the Washington Post, is the end of the obnoxious and parasitic practice of squeezing revenue out of residents with fines from traffic and other petty offenses. This creates an incentive for police to hassle motorists and is especially burdensome to poor residents. Because this issue is exceedingly local and dull, almost no one talks about it.

(Photo: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James displays a video camera that police officers could wear on patrol during a press conference on August 21, 2014 in New York City.  By Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Best Of The Dish Today

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 1 2014 @ 9:15pm

We don’t seem to have finished discussing Ferguson, so one more thought. I agree with those who argue that the police’s interaction with young black men is, in too many cases, riddled with bias and far too quick to use lethal force. But I agree with others that the Michael Brown case is not the case with which to make that argument. And the liberal reflex to turn it into a synecdoche is a troubling one for reasons John Judis lays out:

Liberals took the decision by the grand jury to symbolize, or stand in for, the greater injustice of the Ferguson and of the American criminal justice department.  But in fact the reverse occurred. They projected the larger injustice of the system onto the grand jury’s ruling.

I’m reminded of the case of Matthew Shepard, where the need to project the injustice of violence against gay men onto one complicated case blinded people to a more interesting and complex reality. Michael Brown did not deserve to die, any more than Matthew Shepard did. But that doesn’t mean both are perfect victims, unalloyed by all the flaws that flesh is heir to; or that their deaths illustrated pure random homophobia or pure racism. And this need for perfect victims is of a piece with a church of liberalism in which there is only one way to be good – a member of a minority – and only one sin – prejudice. All churches need saints and martyrs. But liberalism – no more than conservatism – should never be a church. It’s as dangerous to civil politics as Christianism.

A reader notes how this church’s doctrines are increasingly enforced – and sinners punished – on social media:

Many of us mocked the Tea Party in its seemingly religious quest to root out “RINOs” and its dedication to finding ever more fringe and lunatic conservative causes, but something similar seems to be happening to liberals. Looking at the weekly outraged Facebook posts and blog articles of friends, colleagues, and commentators, I see the purpose of the liberal conversation as increasingly being the enforcement of a shared set of ideals and the rooting out of those among us who might disagree with them. We’re building an echo chamber in which dissenting voices are first drowned out and then excluded. This isn’t about building forums for debate with like-minded souls – it’s about dividing the world into The Righteous and The Wicked.

And the Wicked will be fired from their jobs as well!

Today, we covered some other topics: Israel’s latest lurch toward disenfranchising its non-Jewish citizens; Chris Christie’s enduring cruelty; Chris Rock on the left’s war on comedy; and the prospect of fine wines from Sweden. Plus: dogs who can’t fetch; and Obama’s uptick in approval.

The most popular post of the day was Listening; next up: Why Doesn’t Ferguson Happen Abroad? A reader has an addendum to that post, and it is the case of the police shooting of Mark Duggan in north London in 2011, prompting the Tottenham riots. A good primer on the case can be found here.

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Reasons To Hope On Race

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 1 2014 @ 1:38pm

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William H. Frey marks the slow, steady decline of segregation:

The average white resident, for example, lives in a far less diverse neighborhoodone that is more than three-quarters whitethan residents of any other group. Nonetheless, the average white person today lives in a neighborhood that includes more minorities than was the case in 1980, when such neighborhoods were nearly 90 percent white. Moreover, the average member of each of the nation’s major minority groups lives in a neighborhood that is at least one-third white, and in the case of Asians, nearly one-half white.

He expects the continuation of these trends:

Population shifts that are bringing Hispanics and Asians to previously whiter New Sun Belt and Heartland regions will most certainly continue to alter the neighborhood experiences of these groups by bringing them into more contact with whites. The nation’s blacks are moving onto a path that more closely follows that of other racial minorities and immigrant groups as more blacks move to more suburban and integrated communities. The broader migration patterns are moving in the direction of greater neighborhood racial integration, even if segregation is far from being eliminated.

And then it seems to me you have to factor in the increasing number of interracial marriages:

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What Chris Rock was referring to with respect to his young daughters is the impact of this big generation of non-white babies. They’ll form yet another new minority – alongside Hispanics and Asians – until all such non-white minorities become a majority in 2050. At some point, it is conceivable that “race” will become so alloyed and meaningless a term it could become irrelevant, or that racism will become more nuanced and diffuse, revealing new variously-hued racial coalitions and identities. Or that at some point, the whole fixation with race will begin to dissipate and disappear in the face of our experience of our common humanity.

Yes, I can hope. And after Ferguson, it feels important to do so.