Tag Archives: police

Unethical (and Cynical) Donation Of The Year: The St. Louis Rams’ Forgiveness Bribe To The Backstoppers

"Agreed, then: you can call us racist murderers, as long as you keep the donations coming...."

“Agreed, then: you can call us racist murderers, as long as you keep the donations coming….”

Let us be undiplomaticly clear about what the five St. Louis Rams players did when they came onto the field at the start of a Monday Night Football games with their hands in the air like the fictional, idealized, sanitized, imaginary and politically useful version of Michael Brown—you know: the angelic young college-bound African-American male who did nothing whatsoever to cause the circumstances of his own death.

The players were saying, on national television, with millions of people watching, that Officer Darren Wilson executed Mike Brown in cold blood; that the St. Louis police do such things, want to do such things, and will do such things, because they routinely target young black men for harm; and that police generally, around the nation, are virulent racists. That’s what the gesture meant, and that is what it was devised to convey. Continue reading

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Comment of the Day on “Comment of the Day on ‘The Perils Of Over-Regulating The Police: A Case Study'”

Robocop

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.

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Comment of the Day on “The Perils Of Over-Regulating The Police: A Case Study”

militarization

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.

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Transparency, Causation, Eggshells, Trust : Seven More Ethics Issues In The Eric Garner Case

jigsaw-puzzle-record

1. There is near unanimity in the response to the non-indictment by the Staten Island jury in the Eric Garner case. In light of the graphic video, it is hard to see how there wasn’t probable cause to indict. The coroner verdict of “homicide” would see to provide sufficient evidence all by itself. However, in the absence of the complete record of what the grand jury heard and saw, nobody can be certain that this was a miscarriage of justice. However, given the context of the case and its deleterious impact on faith in the justice system, that is no solace and scant mitigation. As in Ferguson, it is prudent and essential that the public see what the decision was based upon. It is true that those who are determined to see injustice, bias and racism will do so regardless of what the evidence shows–again, as in Ferguson—but the only evidence that has been made public, the various videos and the officer’s testimony–only makes the non-prosecution more suspicious.

2. Can the non-prosecution be justified? If so, the only reason I can see would be lack of proof of causation. Causation is tricky, and  juries get confused about how to analyze it. Since it is fair to assume Daniel Pantaleo did not intend to kill Eric Garner, the issues are a) whether his actions during the arrest were negligent, and b) whether they were the proximate cause of Garner’s death. That his conduct was negligent is not enough to sustain and indictment—that negligence had to be the reason Garner died. Remember, he was not choked to death. The medical examiner ruled that Garner died from a collection of factors: compression on his chest and throat, the position he was forced into, his obesity, weak heart, and asthma, all causing asphyxia.

  • If Pantaleo’s actions alone would not have caused Garner’s death, then it could be legitimately argued that he was not guilty of a crime. The other officers were given immunity for their testimony, which seems like either a bad decision by the district attorney, or intentional sabotage of the case against Pantaleo’s. If it was the collective action of the police that caused Garner’s death, it would be unjust to make Pantaleo the sole officer punished. If some of the testimony from the unchargeable cops made the case that it was another officer, or several, who really caused Garner’s death, that would explain the no indictment result.

In the widely seen video of the arrest, Pantaleo can be seen with his arm around Garner’s neck as Garner is taken to the ground and for some time thereafter, but in watching the video it’s difficult to determine whether Garner was in fact choked. And if he was, it did not appear it was long enough even to render him unconscious, much less kill him…I saw nothing excessive in the manner in which the officers subdued Garner. He was neither beaten with batons nor even punched. To me, it appeared to be a fairly typical scuffle with a large man who had clearly demonstrated his unwillingness to be arrested peacefully.

He misses the point. The question is whether the take-down was excessive for Garner, not some theoretical average arrestee. It is true that with a normal, healthy subject, what the officers did would not typically cause death….but Garner was obviously not normal, nor healthy. He was morbidly obese, and 350 pound middle-aged people tend to have the kinds of heath issues Garner in fact had. Nobody would argue that an elderly woman or a ten-year old girl or someone in a wheelchair should be manhandled like that. Such treatment was negligent for Eric Garner, and the deadly result could and should have been anticipated.

It is true that the officers couldn’t know that Garner had a weak heart and suffered from asthma, but it doesn’t matter: the rule in negligence is that “you take your victim as you find him.” If your negligence is the proximate cause of someone’s death, the fact that it wouldn’t have caused anyone else’s death is no defense. This is the so-called “Egg-shell Skull” rule.

Garner was an egg-shell perp. Continue reading

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Ethically Incoherent Statement Of The Month: Van Jones

Van Jones: Reasonable or biased?

Van Jones: Reasonable or biased?

Van Jones, the former White House “czar” of something or other turned smooth-talking racialist warrior on CNN’s “Cross-Fire” and various TV panels, was arguing for frank racial dialogue on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” in the context of the protests over the Ferguson and Staten Island police grand jury decisions. Sounding reasonable as he often does, Jones then said that what should be an area of agreement is the need for a special prosecutor whenever police misconduct is before a grand jury, noting that it was an “obvious conflict of interest”for prosecutors who work with police as a core element of their job.

I have addressed this argument before, but let me be clearer. This is a conflict of interest that a competent and ethical prosecutor should acknowledge and be able to deal with as the legal ethics rule require. The prosecutor should get a waiver from his or her client—not the victim’s family, but the government the prosecutor represents—and honestly assess whether the fact that the police serve the same client will prevent the prosecutor from being fair and objective. If the answer is yes, then the prosecutor must recuse, but I see no reason why the answer should be yes, if the prosecutor is ethical and worthy of the position.(Jones and other advocates for this “solution” have a bias against prosecutors, whom they view as presumptively unethical.)

Theoretically, every case in which an officer’s credibility determines whether a citizen should be charged poses the same conflict: it is endemic to the prosecutor’s job. Indeed, prosecutors have a very good reason to want bad cops punished and removed from the police force; I’m not at all certain that there is a necessary bias on the part of prosecutors in favor of letting such cops escape legal consequences of their actions. That assumption is based on the assumption that prosecutors don’t care about  justice. Nobody who doesn’t care about justice becomes a prosecutor. Why would they? It is a hard, frustrating job and the pay isn’t anything special.

The strongest argument for a special prosecutor is a different ethical problem, the appearance of impropriety. If the decision to prosecute or not is tainted with suspicion of bias, then the justice system is compromised and breaks down. This is why, for example, it is terrible that the Justice Department, a super-politicized one at that, is supposedly investigating the I.R.S. scandal.

As George moved to another topic, Jones blurted out a final statement that caused me to spit-take a mouthful of coffee. It undermined all of his finely tuned rhetoric about fairness and non-partisan dialogue about race, and exposed, ironically, his own biases. He said;

“If there had been a special prosecutor in Ferguson, we would have had a different result.”

AHA! Continue reading

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The Perils Of Over-Regulating The Police: A Case Study

This is Dirt Harry's badge. Seconds later, he throws it into a river. Lots of other police will be doing the same.

This is Harry “Dirty Harry” Callahan’s badge. Seconds later, he throws it into a river. Lots of other police officers will soon be doing the same.

Yesterday, for the third time in my life, I was the first one on the scene after a fellow human being’s death. This time, it was a very close friend and, though it has little to do with this post, a wonderful man. I had headed out to his home because I was worried: an unusually reliable and conscientious individual, he had missed several appointments the last few days and hadn’t been answering e-mails and phone calls. When I was told about this, I immediately suspected the worst, and sadly, I was right.

His car was outside his house, and though it was mid-day and he was supposed to be somewhere else, I could see that the TV was on. In front of his door, getting soaked in the rain,  was a package: it had been delivered there on December 2. I got no response to my bangs on the door. It was time to call 911.

The police responded quickly. I’m not going to name the department, which has an excellent reputation here, and I do not fault the officers, who were diligent and polite, and who set about investigating the scene professionally and quickly. Nonetheless, after a full 90 minutes, after which they could not discern any more than I had before they came, they would not enter the house.

They told me that they could not risk being sued, and that there were elaborate policies and procedures that had to be checked off first. The officers had to track down their supervisor (it was a Saturday), and, they said, more than one official would have to sign off, to protect the department

“He could be drunk; he could be shacked up; he could just want to be alone,” they told me. “The law says his privacy can’t be breached, even by us.”

“But he’s not any of those things,” I said. “He doesn’t do any of those things, and if he were OK, there wouldn’t be a four-day-old package outside.”

“Maybe he took a trip on a whim.”

“He would have called and cancelled those commitments,” I said. “Look, you and I both know that he could be inside, on the brink of death, with every second bringing him closer. The only alternative is that he’s died already. If you won’t do it, let me break in, chase me, and you’ll find him legally as you pursue me. How’s that?”

The police weren’t sold. Finally, after a full 90 minutes, they requisitioned a ladder from a neighbor and were able to see into a second floor window. My friend was visible on the floor, and then they moved quickly, breaking down the door. They were too late by days. They might have been too late by minutes though. All those procedures and policies that forced the police to avoid taking action that in this case, under these circumstances, were prudent and that might have saved a life imperiled.

The lesson is only this: if we cannot trust police to make decisions like this, we obviously are not going to trust them to decide when to fire their weapons. Laws, rules and procedures are rigid, and have to be examined slowly; real life operates in the shadows of uncertainty, among the loopholes, gray areas and ambiguities, and it moves fast. The protests and demands in the wake of the recent police controversies will undoubtedly result in more regulations, policies and laws, but there is good reason to believe that they will also make us less safe rather than more safe, and make it difficult to find reasonable, dedicated, ethical men and women willing to serve as police, a job which, we seem to be deciding, should be subjected to strict liability whether the officer acts too quickly, or not quickly enough—judged, of course, after the results are in. Continue reading

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Journalism Ethics Reality Check: What The Entire News Media Did To Darren Wilson With Dorian Johnson’s “Hands Up” Story Is EXACTLY Like What Rolling Stone Did To UVA With “Jackie’s” Rape Account, Just Worse.

Am I the only one who sees this?

Two train wrecks, same track...

Two train wrecks, same track…

I discern that I was too subtle—imagine that!when I wrote,

In light of all this, it seems that women really have done a relatively poor job at intimidating the left-biased media as well as its progressive pundits and elected officials. If they had sufficiently pressured journalists into believing that to challenge their accounts of rape, substantiated or not, was proof positive of malicious animus, like the civil rights machine has regarding narratives of police racism, they could depend on much of the media continuing to repeat the Rolling Stone account as truth even if it is completely discredited. This is, after all, what we are witnessing right now, as the recent grand jury decision in the Eric Garner death has allowed columnists, reporters, and broadcasters—and thus protesters and politicians—to continue to represent what happened to Michael Brown as if Dorian Johnson’s discredited description of his friend’s death was fair, accurate and unbiased.

So let me be clear….

We are told the the news media is furious with Rolling Stone over its discredited and anonymously sourced gang rape accusation against the University of Virginia’s chapter of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Why is it not similarly critical of itself for publicly and far more widely accusing a single, named Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, of a race-motivated, cold-blooded execution of an unarmed man based on the allegations of Dorian Johnson? They are, from a journalism ethics perspective, equally irresponsible and unprofessional, and predictably more harmful. It is, we can stipulate, worse for a police officer to be accused of first degree murder than for unnamed members of a fraternity to be accused of rape.

Note:

1. Both Rolling Stone and the mainstream media were eager to accept the stories being told as fact because of their own ideological biases.

Rolling Stone is committed to the current campaign of the left to portray college campuses as perpetuating a “rape culture.” The mainstream media, as it had already proved in its slanted and incompetent coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death and the trial of George Zimmerman, is a shameless ally of the cynical Democratic Party’s tactic of representing the nation as racist. Continue reading

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