Why didn’t I see this coming? The Washington Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Odies Walker for murder and other crimes in the slaying and robbery of an armored car guard because the prosecutor’s PowerPoint presentation during his closing argument constituted “flagrant, pervasive, and prejudicial” prosecutoral misconduct. While lawyers “may use multimedia resources in closing arguments to summarize and highlight relevant evidence,” the court ruled, “advocacy has its limits.”
The prosecutor presented a whopping 250 PowerPoint slides to the jury during the summation, including 100 with the caption “defendant Walker guilty of premeditated murder.” The slide above with the caption, “Money is more important than human life,” was typical of the problem assailed by the justices: it was never alleged that Walker said this, or even thought it. Continue reading
I regard Oprah Winfrey’s conduct in the 2006 James Frey scandal signature significance regarding her priorities and character. When it was revealed that Frey’s “memoir,” “A Million Little Pieces,” which Oprah had promoted in her show’s book club, was a near-total fabrication, her immediate response consisted of, in essence, “Who cares, if people like it?” Then, when the public response to her response was overwhelmingly negative, Oprah turned on a dime and ambushed Frey on the air, condemning him as an unscrupulous fraud. That’s our Oprah.
Oprah has profited by promoting several fakes, frauds and dubious authorities, such as the syndicated Oprah spin-off “Dr. Phil,” featuring a non-doctor who masquerades as a psychologist despite losing his license to practice decades ago. The most successful of all Oprah’s protegés is “Dr. Oz,” or “America’s Doctor” Mehmet Oz, now a popular syndicated talk-show host who dispenses medical advice with the aura of a real degree and a convincing air of authority. When I say popular, I mean it. “The Dr. Oz Show” attracts 2.9 million viewers per day, and ranks in the top five talk shows in the U.S. “I haven’t seen a doctor in eight years,” the New Yorker quoted one fan telling Dr. Oz. “I’m scared. You’re the only one I trust.”
For some reason medical experts have waited over a decade to actually check out the snake oil Dr. Oz has been selling to credulous viewers softened up by Oprah’s House of Truthiness. They were finally roused from their torpor in recent months, after Dr. Oz appeared before Congress in June and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) knocked him around the chamber, saying that he gave people false hope and that his segments were a “recipe for disaster.” Then, in November, a study he promoted as proving the efficacy of coffee bean weight-loss pills was retracted as junk science.
The British Medical Journal this week published a study analyzing the recommendations handed out on “Dr. Oz” as well as on another popular daytime medical show, “The Doctors.” The study selected forty “Dr. Oz” episodes from last year, and examined 479 separate medical recommendations, comparing them to available medical research. The study found that just 46 % of his recommendations were validated by data, while research contradicted 15%. For 39% of Oz’s advice, there was insufficient research and data to substantiate or debunk his claims. (“The Doctors” fared a little better, but not much.) Continue reading
Stephen Mark Pilling contributes the second consecutive Comment of the Day providing perspective on the issue of police militarization, in response to the first. Here is his Comment of the Day to the post (by dragin_dragon, which you should read first if you haven’t yet), Comment of the Day on “The Perils Of Over-Regulating The Police: A Case Study”
When critics speak of the “militarization” of the police, not all are looking at it from the same viewpoint. Some are, of course, sociopathic or are conspiracy theorists. Some have swallowed the loudly flaunted concept that policemen are evil racists, corrupt ward healers in uniform or just about anything heinous, as they represent law as an absolute, not a relative.
There is a rational based distrust, however. Many of us grew up in a time where the police still walked a beat or patrolled his neighborhood in a squad car, armed with nothing more than a revolver. We’re also the product of an old tradition of law enforcement that stems from the British mold. Unlike the continental European system of paramilitary gendarmes, we adapted a system of localized lawmen, run by an elected county sheriff. The metropolitan police department is still a relatively new phenomenon, started in late 19th Century London.
To many citizens, police who are unaccountable to a directly elected chief and who sport automatic weapons strike a sour note. But recently, people have been seeing them acquiring armored vehicles, military assault training and a tendency to wearing black uniforms. They’ve also noted an increased likelihood of these tactics and weapons being utilized and the increased incidence of “no knock entries”. Likewise, citizens have been imaging police making arrogant idiots out of themselves and caused other cops to become ever more touchy about cell phones, whether they’re right or wrong.
These and other factors have been serving to create a gap between the citizens and the police. That’s never a good thing, of course, because that trust is vital in a free society. Citizen distrust only deepens when they perceive policemen in whom this sense of civil mastery is full blown. As a former military cop, as a private citizen and as a friend or relative of a lot of civilian cops, I’ve seen all this from different angles. I’ve also seen the divide deepen in recent days.
One small note. The funding of police units on all levels directly from federal sources coincides with the worry by many that state and local police units may be more or less within the pocket of federal departments. The actual militarization of once innocuous federal police units and the memory of Obama’s projected National Civilian Defense Force has resulted in fear that this is an intentional part of a program to create an instrument of oppression. For myself, I highly doubt that any street cops would lend themselves to some “martial law” based takeover of the homeland of America. What I’m not sure of, though, is how many in higher authority have not conceived of the notion and would execute it if they could.
Again; it’s vital that the bonds of trust be strengthened between the police departments and those law abiding citizens whom they “serve and protect”. They must never- ever- be heard to make disparaging remarks about “civilians”, as that only deepens the gulf. In the Army Military Police Corps, the official motto is “Of the troops and for the troops”. It’s a good motto. It should also carry over to every local police or sheriff’s department in America. “Of the citizens and for the citizens”. Policemen who embrace that attitude will seldom go wrong. Both they and the communities they serve will benefit.
ABC News Political Analyst and former Bush advisor Matthew Dowd said on ABC’s This Week that the recent cases of police violence involving unarmed African Americans were as much due to the militarization of police forces as race.
“We basically dress up officers as if they’re machines,” Dowd said. “And then we expect them to act like human beings. So what happens is, they confuse power with force. Most of the officers in this country do a great job. But when we militarize our police force and dress them up like machines, they act like machines.”
Technically, he was right: there is no evidence that those tragedies were caused by race or militarization. He had exactly no evidence or documentation that the “militarization of police” caused these deaths, or that alleged militarization has caused any deaths. This appears to be emerging conventional wisdom, just one of those things someone says and everyone nods in agreement with no real thought. Why is the so-called “militarization” of police forces such a threat or cause to distrust police? If police are not trustworthy, that’s a reason not to give them fire-power, but having more fire-power doesn’t make them less trustworthy. It simply makes it more important than ever that police be well trained and responsible.
I was preparing a post about this emerging theme as an example of bias, in this case, pre-existing anti-police bias, being translated into false and discourse-warping assumptions by activists and the police when stalwart commenter dragin_dragon delivered this, the Comment of the Day, on the post The Perils of Over-Regulating the Police: A Case Study:
Police departments have been quasi-military for many years, and it has not seemed to hurt their ability to enforce the law. As early as 1974, Austin, Texas P.D. referred to it’s officers on patrol as “the troops”. S.W.A.T. units have traditionally used what they thought of as “Military” weapons, tactics and mode of dress; never mind that a properly trained infantry squad could and would wipe them out in minutes. Note, also, that most states and/or cities ban the mounting of weapons on the surplus (obsolete) armored and tracked vehicles or helicopters. They do NOT ban a man carrying a weapon being mounted on those vehicles. I also point out that many police officers are ex-military so are bringing to the job an environment with which they are already familiar. Rank structures are similar, and the police in the United States, at least, carry weapons, perhaps as a holdover from the Old West, perhaps not.
Given the rise in crime rates (see Chicago, Detroit), many of these escalations of Police equipment and training are needed. This became evident a number of years ago when a Los Angeles bank robbery went south and the robbers began shooting at the converging police with automatic (not the semi-automatic versions described as automatic, but rock-and-roll full automatic) assault weapons. The out-gunned police (9 MM pistols and shotguns) did the best they could and, like Israel, vowed “Never again”. Strangely enough, many in the National Media agreed, at the time. So, what we are referring to as the “Militarization” of the Police is being undertaken for 2 reasons: 1) to provide a higher likelihood that the officers will get to, at the end of the day, go home to family, and 2) so that the public, which they are sworn to protect and defend, will also, at the end of the day, get to go home and family.
Does this increase the likelihood that a perpetrator may not make it to trial? Quite likely. Do I care? Not so much. As I am sure will be pointed out repeatedly, death tends to be relatively final, with no appeal. And, after all, the most dangerous criminal has the right to due process. Unfortunately, crime, violent crime, is not something one does accidentally. It requires a conscious decision, often along with a misplaced almost arrogant sense of invincibility. Getting shot, and probably killed is the most natural consequence in the world of that attitude. Ask Michael Brown. Like it or not he jeopardized the well-being of an armed police officer, apparently arrogantly disregarding the consequences of his behavior and, quite probably putting the officer’s life at risk. I am assuming that Wilson, like many police officers these days, was wearing a very militaristic bullet-proof vest under his shirt, but, since Ferguson is a fairly poor community (and rapidly becoming poorer) possibly not, so he might have been better off if Brown had shot him, first. At least he would still have a job.
All this is by way of saying that militarization of departments is not necessarily a bad thing. The use to which the training and equipment is put may be a bad thing, but I have not seen, in any report, any attempt to oppress or exert Nazi-like control over the citizenry. So, am I in favor of the “Militarization”? You bet. I am in favor of anything that makes it more likely that they will be able to survive the work day. And make no mistake, that is always a question for a police officer, just like it is for the combat soldier. Am I also in favor of more and better training? Also, you bet. Need I repeat? And the management, or “command” element of the police need to be taught How and When to use the equipment and training.
One of these days I’m going to highlight some of the excellent websites and blogs among the Ethics Alarms links (to your left!), but for the moment I’m directing your attention to a new one: the Behavioral Legal Ethics Blog. The three professors who contribute to the blog describe it, accurately, like this:
“Behavioral Legal Ethics is a place for a wide-ranging discussion about the intersection between behavioral science, law and ethics. The conversations will appeal to anyone interested in the ways in which empirical psychological research can inform questions about how legal institutions and practices encourage ethical behaviors in legal and non-legal actors.”
I had intended to add this superb blog to my links for some time. I confess that the fact that the current post quotes me did prompt me to finally act.
Pointer: Legal Ethics Forum
Maybe Ruth Marcus would like this system better…
Theories of democracy and political science, Robert Heinlein, minimizing bias from self-interest, scientist suspicion, GIANT BUGS…okay, it doesn’t quite get to the bugs. But what’s not to like about texagg 04’s reflections and exposition sparked by the post on Ruth Marcus’s plug for compulsory voting? Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Make Voting Compulsory, Because We Can’t Let THAT Happen Again: Continue reading