Tag Archives: police

An Ethics Riddle: What Do Starbucks And The University Of Virginia Have In Common?

They both called the cops on someone who was violating a policy. Only one of them, however, was accused of racism.

Bruce Kothmann, a University of Virginia alumnus, read aloud from his Bible on the steps of the school’s Rotunda this week, so university police came make him stop. He did stop, because he didn’t want to be arrested. For such public speech is no longer allowed at the public university. The Rotunda is not one of the places the university has designated for public speech by outsiders. Kothmann was on to campus because his daughter had just finished her sophomore year, but was reading from his  Bible with him to challenge the school’s  policy limiting speech on campus.

A terse reader comment on the story said, “This is basically what happened at Starbucks.” The comment is correct.

Would UVA have sent the police to silence a black parent? My guess: no, and if it had, the school would be grovelling in the dust right now, begging for forgiveness. Unless the school could quickly point to a white transgressor who got the cops called on him, a charge of race bias would be devastating, and, of course, effective.

You recall the Starbucks episode: I covered it here. Two African Americans were informed of a Starbucks policy that required those using the facilities to be customers. The men refused, the manager called the police claiming trespass, and the rest is ugly, race-baiting history. The two men could have left just as Mr. Kothmann agreed to stop reading, but that’s just moral luck. The reader was right: the episodes were the same….except for the race of the violator involved.

The Ethics Alarms position is that both policies, that of the university and the old Starbucks policy, are reasonable, with the Starbucks policy being the more  defensible, since UVA is a public university and has the First Amendment to contend with. Never mind: the news media and the social justice social media mob have little interest in a white man being stopped by police from reading that old rag, The Bible, but if two black men violating a private business’s reasonable policy have that policy enforced against them, that’s intolerable.

We have the birth of a new racial privilege, now extending beyond police shootings (a white cop can safety shoot a threatening white suspect, but not a black one) to other forms of previously justifiable conduct. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/18/2018: The Bad, The Beautiful, And The Stupid

Good morning, everyone…

1. Tales of the King’s Pass. Fox News put out a statement saying that Sean Hannity had its “full support.” We can assume that means no punishment, no sanctions, not even any public regrets, despite the fact, and it is a fact, that the right-wing talk-show host-turned-Trump propagandist went on the air and defended Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, without mentioning the fact that Hannity was Cohen’s client. Thus Fox is announcing, in effect, that undisclosed conflicts of interest are just fine and dandy if your ratings are good enough. This also means that Fox News is admitting that it really doesn’t care about candor, honesty, and objectivity, since it will ignore blatant violations of all three if the profit is sufficient.

In fairness to Fox, Hannity’s blatant biases toward all things Trump are no more egregious than the open Obama bias displayed across the mainstream media’s full spectrum of journalists and pundits; it just stands out more because he has less company. However, this is a specific conflict of interest, with Hannity having undisclosed connections to a newsmaker that could reasonably affect his commentary. The closest parallel would be ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reporting on the Clinton Foundation’s dubious activities without telling viewers that he was a $75,000 donor. ABC didn’t discipline him, either, but at least he made a public apology on the air.

To make the King’s Pass case even stronger, after Politico reported this week that dinnertime news anchor Bret Baier played nine holes of golf with President Trump over the weekend, Fox News acknowledged that Baier was admonished by the president of the network.  I don’t agree with the reprimand at all. The opportunity to spend that kind of time with a President is invaluable, a rare opportunity to acquire insight and access over an extended period of time. The idea, I assume, is that it creates the illusion of chumminess. It’s a dumb illusion. If I were a journalist,  I would play golf with anyone if it allowed me to learn something. If I were president of a network, I’d reprimand a reporter for turning down such an opportunity.

2. The Virtue-Signaling Hall Of Fame. Starbucks is reacting to the PR nightmare arising out of the arrest of two black men for refusing to order anything while waiting for a companion in a Philadelphia Starbucks by a grand gesture: it will close all U.S. stores and corporate offices on the afternoon of May 29 for “employee racial bias training.” I suppose this is good crisis management, though cynical and non-substantive. It also permanently tars as a racist the Starbucks ex-manager, who says she was following a locale-specific company policy in an area that had experienced problems with loitering. Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Philly Starbucks Ethics Train Wreck

The now viral Starbucks incident that took place in Philadelphia last week is a genuine ethics train wreck.

Two days after two men were arrested while waiting for their friend at a local Starbucks, the company has issued an apology.

Police were called to a Starbucks after two men, who were African Americans, refused to leave the coffee store after they were told that they needed to buy something in order to stay there.  The men were waiting to meet companion to have a meeting. The store management then summoned the police.

 

The men now have an attorney, Lauren Wimmer, who says that her clients were waiting in the Starbucks  for less than 15 minutes. “These guys were doing what people do every day, they were having a meeting and they were undoubtedly singled out because of their race, ” she says.

The company tweeted the apology yesterday:

Ethics Observations: Continue reading

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From The Ethics Alarms “Ethics Mysteries” Files: Explain To Me Again Why Public Employees Like Police Have A Right For The Public Not To Know They Should Have Been Fired…

Only three states—New York, Delaware and California–have laws specifically shielding police misconduct records from the public. How can this possibly be justified?

From BuzzFeed, which was working from leaked documents:

…from 2011 to 2015 at least 319 New York Police Department employees who committed offenses serious enough to merit firing were allowed to keep their jobs. Many of the officers lied, cheated, stole, or assaulted New York City residents. At least fifty employees lied on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation. Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Fifty-seven were guilty of driving under the influence. Seventy-one were guilty of ticket-fixing. One officer, Jarrett Dill, threatened to kill someone. Another, Roberson Tunis, sexually harassed and inappropriately touched a fellow officer…At least two dozen of these employees worked in schools. Andrew Bailey was found guilty of touching a female student on the thigh and kissing her on the cheek while she was sitting in his car. In a school parking lot, while he was supposed to be on duty, Lester Robinson kissed a woman, removed his shirt, and began to remove his pants. And Juan Garcia, while off duty, illegally sold prescription medication to an undercover officer.

In every instance, the police commissioner, who has final authority in disciplinary decisions, assigned these officers to “dismissal probation,” a penalty with few practical consequences. The officer continues to do their job at their usual salary. They may get less overtime and won’t be promoted during that period, which usually lasts a year. When the year is over, so is the probation.

Wait—that’s not how they show it on “Blue Bloods!” More… Continue reading

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A Vermont State’s Attorney Prosecuted A College Student For An Overheard Phone Call. Why Is She Still Employed?

In October of last year, police charged Wesley Richter, a University of Vermont continuing education student, with disorderly conduct after university officials said he used “explicitly racist and threatening language” against black students and diversity initiatives on campus. Richter was overheard in a phone call with his mother, though exactly what Richter allegedly said has not been made public.unknown. Of course, what he said doesn’t matter, unless he was planning a crime, which he was not. He was talking to his mother, and a student who overheard the discussion took offense at what was said. Richter, through his lawyer, denied saying anything racist, but again, it doesn’t matter. Saying racist things in a phone conversation cannot be a crime. It’s bad manners. It’s disrespectful to those listening. A school may be able to justly find some kind of violation to a reasonable and neutral civility code involving words but not content. But an overheard phone conversation cannot be a crime. It is mere words.

Nevertheless, the University of Vermont, the University of Vermont Police Department and the Chittenden (County) state’s attorney’s office in the person of Sarah George, the State’s Attorney, prosecuted the case against Richter. George is a graduate of the University of Vermont Law School, where presumably they taught constitutional law. There is no excuse for this.

Richter’s lawyer, Ben Luna, argued that George didn’t have probable cause to bring the misdemeanor charge, and Superior Court Judge David Fenster agreed. In a statement, Luna called the dismissal a victory for free speech and the First Amendment. “The court’s ruling reinforces my opinion that this matter should never have been brought,” he said.

The court’s ruling also reinforces my opinion that Sarah George should be disciplined by the bar and fired.

Right at the start, Vermont’s Rule 3.8, as in every other state, makes it clear that prosecutors must not charge anyone with a crime without probable cause:

Rule 3.8. SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF A PROSECUTOR

The prosecutor in a criminal case shall:

(a) refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause;

The Comments to the rule say in part,

[1] A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice and that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence.

The First Amendment makes it beyond argument that the government may not punish or seek to punish citizens for the content of their speech. Since the only evidence that George had that a misdemeanor had been committed was a third party complaint about the content of Richter’s speech in a conversation over the phone with his mother, she did not have legal or sufficient evidence to charge or prosecute Richter. As a lawyer and a prosecutor she had to know that. If she knew it, she was knowingly abusing her power, and should be suspended from the practice of law.

If she didn’t know it, then she is incompetent and not fit to practice. She should be fired.

Incredibly, George said she thought the case was strong, but that it was also “a learning experience.” “It’s disappointing, but it’s also good for us to know. It’s a really great decision for us in terms of case law and reasoning, so we know now what this court expects of us,” George said.

Yeah, the court expects you to follow the Constitution. If you have to learn that at this late stage in your legal career, Sarah, you need to go back to the drawing board. Maybe you can sell maple syrup.

She wasn’t through. “What we allege he did, we still allege he did,” she continued.  “It just didn’t rise to the level of a hate crime.”

A phone conversation cannot be a “hate crime.” Speech cannot be a hate crime. “Hate speech” is not a legal designation.

Why is this woman a state prosecutor? Fire her.

If she is not fired, then this totalitarian, illegal, abusive and intimidating prosecution chills free speech, not just on the University of Vermont campus, but in the whole state. A citizen should not have to wait two months, as Richter did, for a judge to declare that the state cannot persecute him for what he is overheard saying, whatever it is.

Fire

Her. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/10/2017: Posts Collide! Journalists Self-Destruct! Women Undermine Themselves! And A Poll…

Good morning!

1  Bingo!  Amy Alkon, aka the Advice Goddess, has been staking out lonely territory as a feminist who feels the #MeToo mob and its attendant hysteria is setting the cause of women back, not advancing it. Here most recent post begins by mocking an LA Times hysteric who wrote that

“What happens when society ignores sexual assault? You get Lesotho, where girls aren’t even safe at the grocery store…”

Akon responded in part…

This sort of ridiculous hysteria — that our country is anything like a place where 19% of teenaged girls are forced to marry — makes things here cumulatively worse, not better.This is the safest, most modern, most individual rights-driven country in the world.

If you are in a profession where there’s a great deal of money and power, there are likely to be sociopaths of various stripes who will prey on you — whether you’re a man or a woman. No, sexual assault should not be ignored, but we also don’t help ourselves by turning an invitation out for a drink by a co-worker into some sort of victimization.

If it isn’t your boss trying to manipulate you into the sack when you want no such thing; if there’s no quid pro quo; if requests for a date stop when you ask for them to stop (or maybe after the second time), do you really need to identify as a victim?…

People have conflicting goals and desires. Any two people. Heterosexual men negotiate these with each other. They’re very comfortable with it — as am I, no matter what sex or sexuality you are or have. If one person isn’t holding the other down or saying “fuck me, or you lose your job…” …If there’s merely a need for a mild rebuff (like, “Sorry, I don’t date co-workers), well, this seems to me like a normal part of adult life.

I predict two things from the current hysteria (where, say, a stolen kiss from a drunken co-worker is equated with Harvey Weinsteining and may even be seen as a firing offense):

1. Employers will think twice about hiring women, especially when they have the option of hiring a commensurately qualified male.

2. Men will start seeing escort workers in larger numbers than ever, and it will become more acceptable than it’s ever been to pay for sex.

2. Who will save journalism, and when will it admit is needs saving? Washington Post politics reporter Dave Weigel‏ mocked the President for declaring his Florida rally “packed to the rafters” last week. Wiegel’s tweet included a picture of a half-empty Pensacola Bay Center.This was, it turned out, a mistake, but also a mistake brought about by confirmation bias, sloppiness, and hostility to the President. Once again, the news media handed the President the ammunition to discredit it, as it deserves to be discredited.Trump tweeted after the rally...

“@DaveWeigel WashingtonPost put out a phony photo of an empty arena hours before I arrived the venue, w/ thousands of people outside, on their way in…Real photos now shown as I spoke. Packed house, many people unable to get in. Demand apology & retraction from FAKE NEWS WaPo!”

Weigel apologized, tweeting,

“Sure thing: I apologize…Was confused by the image of you walking in the bottom right corner…It was a bad tweet on my personal account, not a story for Washington Post. I deleted it after like 20 minutes. Very fair to call me out.”

Weigel is a well-known Washington Post reporter, and the fact that he botched this in his own name rather than the Post’s doesn’t diminish its harm to the credibility of the already reeling news media one whit. The apology was nice, but it was also unavoidable. While Trump certainly has primed journalist skepticism with his adversarial relationship to reality, reporters are supposed to be professionals, and leaping to conclusions without confirmation or sufficient evidence isn’t professional, or worthy of public trust. Fact: Weigel would not have done this to Barack Obama.

Weigel’s gaffe was minor compared to CNN’s fiasco the day before, or the Brian Ross episode at ABC, but it deserves to be considered as part of the same pathology. Wrote Glenn Reynold on his blog today,

In attempting to “denormalize” Trump, they’ve denormalized themselves. If they simply reported fairly and accurately, without their screamingly obvious bias, they’d be able to do him much more damage. But they can’t help themselves.

Bingo. They can’t help themselves, and the ethics alarms when bias looms just don’t sound. Today the New York Times has a front page story, complete with a creepy photo of the President, featuring a long, insulting quote from Nancy Pelosi about how “unprepared” Trump was for the job. Oddly, nobody thought, “Wait, did we publish anything like this about the most unqualified President elected up to that  point? You know, the last one?”
Continue reading

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Observations On The Acquittal Of Police Officer Philip “Mitch” Brailsford For The Fatal Shooting Of Daniel Shaver

  • What a terrifying video. I am literally shaking.

I wasn’t at the trial, but I will break my usual rule by saying that this jury, which acquitted the officer of murder charges,  does not deserve the benefit of the doubt, because there is no doubt. I cannot see any path by which the actions of the officer in shooting Shaver can be called reasonable, or anything but murder.

  • Brailsford said he thought Shaver might have been reaching for a weapon. If he wasn’t lying, and I’ll assume he wasn’t, then he was paranoid, and so devoid of normal senses of perception that the police force was negligent all owing him to carry a gun, or to be on the force at all.

Still shaking…

  • How could it have not been clear that Shaver was terrified? Or that he was not desperately trying to follow the officer’s instructions?

Are officers in Mesa trained to talk like that? I assume that they are trained NOT to talk like that, which can only be expected to escalate panic and anxiety and cause the situation to go out of control.

  • Michael Piccarreta, Brailsford’s attorney, convinced jurors that his client acted as reasonably, as a police officer, considering the totality of circumstances. That means that Brailsford acted like any reasonable officer would have when he  fire his AR-15 at a terrified young man crawling toward him as  he had directed. The officer had been called because someone had been reported as pointing a rifle outside of hotel window. Obviously, Shaver had no rifle on him.

Piccarreta did one hell of a good job.

Still shaking… Continue reading

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