Thursday, July 28, 2016

New Rules For Debt Collection Agencies

Consumer Protection Agency to Crack Down on Collection Abuses:

For the first time in nearly 40 years, federal regulators are preparing to significantly strengthen the rules that govern debt collection in an effort to clamp down on collectors who hound consumers for debts they may not even owe.

Under the proposed regulations, which will undergo a lengthy review process, debt collection companies will have to more fully document the debt they are trying to collect, make it clear how a consumer can dispute the debt, and observe state statutes of limitations that bar them from legally pursuing older debts — all safeguards that are frequently flouted, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal agency that plans to put forth the new rules on Thursday.

The regulations also take aim at the stereotype of the harassing debt agency: Collectors would be barred from trying to contact people more than six times in a week. And, after a debtor dies, the collectors would have to wait 30 days before contacting family members about paying up.
Let's just pause for a moment and imagine being the sub-human cretin who calls on grieving family members over a $500 credit card bill only days after their loved one passed. 

Actually, let's not imagine being that brain dead.
Some 77 million people — roughly one in three adults with a credit report — have a delinquent debt in collections, according to an estimate by the Urban Institute. 

The bureau receives far more complaints about debt collection than any other issue — more than 7,000 a month, on average — and 40 percent of them are about collection attempts on debts the customers say they do not owe.

Susan Macharia, 39, an administrative worker who lives in Buena Park, Calif., said she was blindsided in January when she got a call from a collector saying that her wages would be garnished unless she paid off a $10,000 credit card debt that she allegedly ran up in 2003.

A debt so old would normally be beyond the statute of limitations, and legally uncollectable, but the company had a copy of a 2006 default judgment that was entered against her when she failed to respond to a collection lawsuit.

But Ms. Macharia, who opened her first credit card account just three years ago, had no recollection of being notified of a lawsuit, and she was living in Atlanta when the papers were said to have been served on her in California. Fraudulent service is a problem so common it has a name — “sewer service” — derived from the way process servers metaphorically toss the papers they are supposed to deliver into a sewer instead.

Just as with mortgages at the height of the financial crisis, delinquent consumer debt is often resold, sometimes multiple times, and in the chain of custody, things can go awry. The nation’s courtrooms have been glutted with millions of collection lawsuits, many of which are backed by thin documentation. And tales of abuses — like robo-signed affidavits filed in bulk, or aggressive collection efforts on erroneous debts — are rife.
But at least the new rules, backed up by the enforcement of the Consumer Protection Bureau, promise to reign in these bottom-feeding debt collection agencies and their lobotomized employees. A step in the right direction.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Black and Blue (and Green, Part 2)

Odd, the last thing I wrote in my last post was, "Frankly, if that's the kind of job you want, join the army and deploy to a war zone. And get out of law enforcement." After another ghastly ambush on law enforcement yesterday in Baton Rouge, a common thread beyond race emerges: the shooter in Baton Rouge and the shooter in Dallas were both former Army/Marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who both used the "open carry" laws passed in Louisiana and Texas to their advantage in the ambushes they carried out.

As investigators worked, details about Mr. Long, 29, of Kansas City, Mo., began to emerge. Like the gunman who killed five police officers more than a week ago in Dallas, Mr. Long had served abroad in the military.

On Sunday, officers observed a man, wearing all black and holding a rifle, outside the beauty supply store, the colonel said. In the next four minutes, there were reports of shots fired and officers struck, said Colonel Edmonson, whose agency has taken the lead on the investigation, helped by local and federal investigators.
Same MO as the Dallas shooter: by appearing in public legally armed with an assault rifle, the shooter evades instant identification as a threat, allowing police to be drawn into standard approach/questioning, and thus ripe for targeting. These open carry statutes, which are fundamentally a perversion of the rule of law, are literally making marks of the men and women in law enforcement.

The Cleveland police actually went so far as to ask the governor to suspend open carry around the Republican Convention kicking off today, arguing the same threat (the governor, Kasich, not surprisingly declined their request). 
The attack in Baton Rouge resonated in Cleveland, where delegates were gathering for this week’s Republican National Convention. Stephen Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, called on Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio to temporarily suspend the state’s open-carry laws in light of the recent tragedies.
But while the motivation for these shootings (supposedly race related) is the only coverage the media seems to be engaging in, the more common aspects (other than the open-carry, easy access to assault rifles) seem to be the military background, training, and lack of follow-up veteran's care these guys need after coming back from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and hitting the streets here.
Pentagon records released just after the shooting show Johnson's service didn't end until April 2015. In an email statement Saturday, an Army spokeswoman said that Johnson was never formally discharged; he was released from active duty "with an Honorable characterization" in August 2014. Even after his reserve service ended the following year and he was no longer affiliated with a unit, he could have been recalled on an individual basis.

In any case, those close to Johnson say, the Army did little or nothing to check up on someone it had trained to kill, and who had shown signs of mental distress. At one point, he sought help from the VA for a back injury, according to his mother. But he became overwhelmed by the hassle and paperwork and gave up. Fischbach, the squad leader, also questions the Army's follow-up.
So PTSD, social isolation and marginalization, and perhaps other forms of mental illness, which are not getting treated, then pervert what is an otherwise peaceful protest movement such as Black Lives Matter, as a call to arms. And all of this is driving the police, understandably, into an even more heightened state of anxiety and defensiveness.
The twin attacks — three officers dead Sunday in Baton Rouge, five killed on July 7 in Dallas, along with at least 12 injured over all — have set off a period of fear, anguish and confusion among the nation’s 900,000 state and local law enforcement officers. Even the most hardened veterans call this one of the most charged moments of policing they have experienced.

Officers from Seattle to New Orleans are pairing up in squad cars for added safety and keeping their eyes open for snipers while walking posts. It is an anxious time: Officers must handle not only vocal denunciations from peaceful protesters who criticize abusive policing, but also physical attacks by a tiny few on the periphery.

“We’ve seen nothing like this at all,” said Darrel W. Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and an instructor at the Public Safety Leadership Program at Johns Hopkins University. “The average officer in America, who was tense anyway, their tension and vigilance is going to increase even more. Police officers have always been vulnerable, and they know it. But somewhere inside you, you didn’t think it would happen. But now we’re seeing it happen.”
Even though, as the article goes on to note, law enforcement deaths in the line of duty remain at historic lows, that fact that we've had eight officers killed, ambush style, in a matter of weeks, is beyond alarming. And the fact that it's happening at the hands of military-trained veterans, whose knowledge of, and easy access to, assault rifles and how to use them, even more startling.

Eventually, one assumes, 40+ years of militarized policing is going to produce a militarized response among some in the public. Throw in race, these perverted open-carry statutes, and the toxic anti-government rage unleashed in 2010 (which was fundamentally about race, but for which the police become the perfect symbol of in the eyes of the deranged), and you get the summer of 2016.

Pray for a calm week in Cleveland.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Community Policing v. The Bulletproof Warrior

Bulletproof Warrior Training Now In Question:

Many police departments across the country, with encouragement from the Justice Department, have opted for what they refer to as a guardian mentality, in which de-escalation of potentially violent situations and similar techniques are emphasized.

Some departments, however, believe that a more traditional and aggressive so-called warrior approach is necessary.

Officer Yanez underwent a two-day training course called “The Bulletproof Warrior” in May 2014, according to records from the City of St. Anthony, a suburb near St. Paul. The training combined the two approaches.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune first reported that Officer Yanez took the course. It was conducted by a company called Calibre Press in Glen Ellyn, Ill., owned by Jim Glennon, a former police lieutenant in Lombard, Ill., according to its website.

Mr. Glennon said in an interview that the main focus of the course was to teach police officers to maintain a sense of flexibility in their work, which he calls “balance,” and involves when to use force and at what level, given the circumstances. He said the course did not teach officers to have a warrior mentality.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach to this — that’s what we teach,” he said. “We tell them that they have a three to four times greater chance of dropping dead from a heart attack than from being shot by a felon with a gun.”

Asked about the guardian and warrior approaches, Mr. Glennon said, “If anyone says they are mutually exclusive, that’s nuts.”
Er, I don't think anyone's saying they're "mutually exclusive." I think what they're saying is using only the "warrior" approach in law enforcement is nuts.
Critics of the seminars say that the training offered, which includes watching videos showing officers being shot, runs counter to the reforms departments must adopt if they are to win back trust, especially of black residents.

“Courses like this reinforce the thinking that everyone is out to get police officers,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy organization based in Washington. “This teaches officers, ‘If you hesitate, you could lose your life.’ It is the exact opposite of the way many police chiefs are going.”

The “Bulletproof Warrior” booklet handed out at the company’s seminars addresses warfare as much as police work. A copy of the booklet was obtained by The New York Times. It has charts and graphs on “Combat Efficiency” and “Perceptual Distortions in Combat.”

The booklet portrays a world of constant and increased threat to officers, despite more than two decades of declining violent crime in the United States, and the fact that the last few years have been among the safest to be an American police officer.
Don't let a few facts get in the way of good old fashioned, highly-charged, testosterone-pumping chapters and training videos.
One section is titled “Pre-attack Indicators.” It says, “Unfortunately, the will to survive is all too often trained out of the psyches of our police officers,” and warns of “predators” and “adversaries” who are younger than officers and who have “been in more gunfights and violent encounters.” It advises: “An attack on you is a violent act! What is the only way to overcome that violence?”

Another booklet distributed at seminars, “Anatomy of Force Incidents,” repeatedly makes the point that officers are allowed to — and need to — use more force than they may believe, and to use it pre-emptively. “Myth: The officer must use the minimal amount of force necessary to affect their lawful law enforcement objectives,” it says, and “Myth: An officer must use the ‘least intrusive’ or ‘best’ option when using force.”
Myth: this kind of Rambo-like training doesn't lead to increases in unjustified force, accusations of brutality, and lots of dead citizens who shouldn't be dead.

But even though most policing experts agree that deescalation should now be the preferred method of training, it's this "bulletproof warrior" mentality that still reigns supreme. As this article notes from last year:
Officers at police academies have always been trained in de-escalation, but there has been less emphasis on such methods over the past 20 years. A recent Police Executive Research Forum survey of 281 police agencies found that the average young officer received 58 hours of firearms training and 49 hours of defensive tactical training, but only eight hours of de-escalation training.

The training regimens at nearly all of the nation’s police academies continue to emphasize military-style exercises, including significant hours spent practicing drill, formation and saluting, said Maria R. Haberfeld, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
In other words, the same kind of regressive, retro, pseudo-military style training that got us into this mess is still pervading the profession of law enforcement generally. And if you think about it, doesn't the rhetoric demand nothing less? Because if you are constantly "declaring war" on inanimate objects like Drugs, Crime, Immigration, etc., eventually those things are going to animate. And what starts as a brain-dead political soundbite (a war on drugs) becomes real in its consequences (a war on a segment of your population; namely poor, minority, and so on).  

And while talk of "demilitarizing the police" is trendy, it's not translating to the streets, where officers are still being trained to view the streets of St. Paul the same as the streets of Fallujah or Damascus. 

You've got to go back in history and understand that the role of the Peace Officer is to keep the peace; to serve and protect. It is not to engage in "combat efficiency" or look for "pre-attack predator indicators" while riding around the streets of Palookaville in a tank, grenade launcher at your side, and dressed in so much kevlar you can't even bend over.

Frankly, if that's the kind of job you want, join the army and deploy to a war zone. And get out of law enforcement.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Black and Blue

As the killings and videos in the past few days, of black men at traffic stops, and five police officers in Dallas on Friday, remind us, we are a long way from the post-racial world many thought we'd entered after Obama's election (or even the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Most of us born after the Civil Rights Act (Gen X, Millennials, Homeland gen) don't remember segregated society, but the vestiges of it are still there, and they transcend age, income, gender and every other demographic. Du Bois's "the problem of the 20th century will be the problem of race," is just as easily true in the 21st century so far.

But while most of these issues are beyond this blog's scope, the one troubling item worth examining here was how the standoff with the suspect in Dallas (Micah Johnson) ended via a "bomb robot" that essentially blew the suspect to smithereens and completely usurped the judicial system in the process.

The Dallas police ended a standoff with the gunman suspected of killing five officers with a tactic that by all accounts appears to be unprecedented: It blew him up using a robot.

In doing so, it sought to protect police who had negotiated with the man for several hours and had exchanged gunfire with him. But the decision ignited a debate about the increasing militarization of police and the remote-controlled use of force, and raised the specter of a new era of policing.

The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said officers had used one of the department’s “bomb robots,” attaching an explosive device to its arm that was detonated early Friday when the robot was near the gunman. “Other options would have exposed the officers to grave danger,” he said.

But the decision to deliver a bomb by robot stunned some current and former law enforcement officials, who said they believed the new tactic blurred the line between policing and warfare.
I would venture that it more than "blurred" the line; it completely erased it.
They said that it might have been an excessive use of force and that it set a precedent, adding that they were concerned that other departments across the country could begin using the same tactic.

“The further we remove the officer from the use of force and the consequences that come with it, the easier it becomes to use that tactic,” said Rick Nelson, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former counterterrorism official on the National Security Council. “It’s what we have done with drones in warfare.”

“In warfare, your object is to kill,” he added. “Law enforcement has a different mission.”
Well, it used to anyway, back in the days before we militarized policing to the point that being able to discern the police from military personnel is almost impossible (e.g. this picture from Baton Rouge).

The dude on the right is National Guard, the guys in black police. And it's quite clear from the picture that the guys in black are WAY more armed to the teeth than the guy in green.

For a better look, witness this iconic picture that came out of the Baton Rouge protests.

A demonstrator protesting at the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, US July 9, 2016.

While the focus is on the well-dressed protester (and comparisons are being made to "Tank Man" from Tianamen Square 25 years ago), look at the police gear these dudes are wearing. It almost looks like they stepped out of the latest installment of X-Men: The Apocalypse, or the Suicide Squad. Are they, as one critic noted, simply acting out some adolescent male fantasy of super-human strength and super-hero power?

As the writer/creator of "The Wire" David Simon said, if you dress for a riot, you're gonna get a riot. The only purpose for this kind of overblown militarized presence and fashion wear, according to Christian Parenti, is spectacle..."to create a spectacle around you with the sole intent of intimidating, silencing, cowing, and otherwise harassing poor people and people of color."

But not everyone has a problem with this dude being vaporized by remote control.
Other law enforcement officials supported the decision, suggesting they could take a similar approach if the situation called for it. At a news conference on Friday, New York’s police commissioner, William J. Bratton, said that while he was waiting to find out precisely what the Dallas police did, “we have that capability.”

“This is an individual that killed five police officers,” he added. “So God bless ’em.”
Good old Bill Bratton...
One expert in legal issues and robotics said he thought the use of the robot was justified, and saw little difference between its use and having a sniper shoot from a distance.

“No court would find a legal problem here,” said Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington law school. “When someone is an ongoing lethal danger, there isn’t an obligation on the part of officers to put themselves in harm’s way.”
I'm not sure who Calo is, but his reasoning is tortured at best. If there is no legal obligation to take out the suspect by sniper, where's the legal justification for blowing him to bits via drone strike (something, interestingly, I joked was possible just three years ago in this post)? Is he advocating for extra-legal outcomes in situations only he dubs "ongoing" and therefore terminal? What is the criteria for establishing such a threshold (beyond "whatever I say it is")?

Yes, some of these robots have useful purposes to law enforcement, including bomb disposal.
But bomb disposal robots have been used to deliver objects to suspects, hostages and others, or to distract or communicate with suspects.

Last year, a man with a knife who threatened to jump off a bridge in San Jose, Calif., was taken into custody after the police had a robot bring him a cellphone and a pizza as part of efforts to talk him down.

In November 2014, the Albuquerque police used a robot to “deploy chemical munitions,” in the words of a department report, in a motel room where a man had barricaded himself with a gun. He surrendered.
However, delivering an IED, and in the process acting like judge, jury and executioner, is a long way from delivering a pizza. And yes, as Bratton suggested, this guy killed five cops, and no one is going to shed a tear for him getting blown to bits anyway.

But what's troubling is the slippery slope mentioned above. Sure, this is a "worst case scenario" and maybe we can justify it today, but what about the run of the mill hostage situation tomorrow? Everyone's hot, it's been hours, we're hungry and ready to go home, let's just call it a day and blow the guy up? What happens when we bomb some guy and it ends up killing collateral victims? Or starts rampaging fires? 

This isn't Baghdad, and the streets of Dallas or Baton Rouge ain't the streets of Fallujah. But the logical extension to all this militarization of the policing is precisely that: eventually our neighborhoods become viewed as war zones, and any force necessary becomes justifiable in war.

It's also the logical extension to the "guns everywhere" madness that has swept the country, particularly southern states like Texas, the past few years. As this article notes, the Dallas suspect Micah Johnson was able to blend into the crowd so easily because he was "one of 20-30 people walking around at the protest on Thursday night carrying assault rifles." According to the chief, “They were wearing gas masks, bulletproof vests and camo fatigues, for effect, for whatever reason.” The protesters he's talking about. So the public is showing up dressed like the cops, because in Texas, in public, this is PERFECTLY NORMAL AND LEGAL.

One wonders: is the militarizing of the citizenry a cause of the militarizing of the police? Or a consequence?

Also put in a conundrum here is the NRA and its supporters. Both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were licensed to carry the concealed guns they had on them, and Micah Johnson had purchased his street sweeper legally and was carrying it legally when he killed the five officers.  Incidentally: if you're wondering why law enforcement has always opposed the NRA and been against these "guns everywhere" and concealed weapons laws since day one, here's your answer.

Which brings us back to race and the Black Lives Matter v. Blue Lives Matter dystopia the media has fallen into. It's interesting how these things always get divided up into the simplistic A v. B, good v. bad, mentality that Americans seem incapable of thinking beyond. Like if presented with a third choice, people's brains just freeze and they go into a fetal position. 

Asked another way, can't you be against black suspects being killed at traffic stops AND against cops being killed in the line of duty? Can't you be in favor of de-escalation, and maybe even sending a ticket in the mail if your tail light is out? Does everything have to turn into a stop/confrontation (DWB: driving while black)? Can't you be against ALL violence?

Chris Lebron gives a very good explanation in his piece, about how truth and justice are filtered through the prism of race, and why at this point in time anyway, it's almost impossible for black and white to hear one another, let alone work together.

And that's even more dangerous, given that the political conventions start next week, and more violence is likely to occur. And this long, mean summer is just getting started.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Conservative Shangri La

The Right-Wing Supreme Court That Wasn't:

Conservatives thought this Supreme Court term would be different.

Still reeling from losses last year in major cases on health care and same-sex marriage, they welcomed a new docket in October studded with cases that seemed poised to move the law to the right.

But then came two unexpected turns of events. Justice Antonin Scalia, the longest-serving member of the court’s five-justice conservative wing, died. And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy veered left in two of the term’s biggest cases, joining the court’s liberals in significant decisions favoring affirmative action and abortion rights.

For the second term in a row, the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. delivered liberal decisions at a rate not seen since the famously liberal court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1950s and 1960s.
And once again, the "Sphinx of Sacramento" Kennedy was at the heart(break) of the most contentious decisions.
In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the affirmative-action case, and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the abortion case, Kennedy voted for (and in the affirmative-action case, personally wrote) strongly worded opinions that suggest the Court has, in fact, moved to the left on these agenda issues.

These two votes announced this week don’t by any stretch make him a new-hatched liberal. Bear in mind that, unless something really bizarre went on behind the scenes, he voted to affirm the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Texas, the jury-rigged partisan takedown of the administration’s “deferred-action” immigration plan. And his comments from the bench during oral arguments in the public-employee union case, Friedrich v. California Teachers Association, suggest that he believes that 21st-century America is a soulless, totalitarian wasteland of federal overreach and executive tyranny. 
Yet he was in the majority of the Birchfield v. North Dakota 4th amendment decision last week that said warrantless breathalyzers are constitutional, while drawing a line on warrantless blood tests. So refusing a breathalyzer can trigger criminal penalties, but refusing a blood test can't. Weird groupings in that case. 6-2 in the breathalyzer case (two dissenters Sotomayor and Ginsburg saying they were against warrantless breathalyzers) and 7-1 in the blood test case (Thomas, natch, saying he would've forced the blood out of you anyway). 

And Kennedy sided with the hardcore conservatives against Obama's immigration ploy to legalize several million undocumented workers. I say ploy because while most people still think Obama was some champion of undocumented persons, they seem to forget he deported more people in his first six years as president than George W. Bush did in eight. I saw the immigration case as less about presidential overreach, and more about Obama trying to whitewash the record of detainee concentration camps, mass deportations and immigrant abuses that took place for most of his eight years in office.

Nonetheless, it was a surprising string of decisions which saw the court go leftward on major issues, and makes the Republican leadership in the Senate, with their current refusal to hold hearings or a vote on Obama's replacement for Scalia (Merrick Garland), look even more brain dead.

In fact, it's really not a good summer to be a Republican or conservative generally.
 In the space of just two days:
The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that Texas' onerous abortion law were an undue burden on a woman's constitutional right to the procedure.

—The House Select Committee on Benghazi released its final report on the tragic 2012 attacks that killed four Americans, finding "no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton," according to the New York Times.
—Donald Trump gave a speech in front a literal garbage pile in which he called for the destruction of existing trade pacts and an all-out trade war with China.

It's a political cliché that the Republican Party comprises three pillars: religious, defense and economic. In just two days, all three have been turned upside down.
The Republican convention coming up in a few weeks promises to be one for the ages, similar to how almost 50 years later, people still talk about the Democratic convention of 1968. If the party leaders don't actually attempt to steal the nomination away from Bozo, the riots and violence that promise to follow a Trump feting may be unprecedented.

Looks like the Reagan Revolution, more than 35 years on now, is dead. And conservatives need to move towards a new vision if they or their party plans to stay relevant.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Camp Orenthal Lives

I'm a little late in writing about this, but O.J. Simpson has been ubiquitous on t.v. these days, first turning up in a made for t.v. series The People v. O.J. Simpson starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and broadcast on several cable channels during the spring.

I caught part of one episode and was nonplussed by what I saw. Having shown the Frontline documentary "The O.J. Verdict" to my classes to punctuate the racial divide in this country, the docudrama didn't tell me anything new or revelatory about the case.

So when I heard ESPN's 30 for 30 series was running a five part, ten hour documentary called O.J.: Made in America my eyes rolled back in my head and I groaned. Another documentary or show about this trial that is now 22 years removed from the public's memory? The documentary I show is an hour, what could possibly take ten hours to cover?

Turns out, quite a lot. I was riveted throughout most of it, particularly the concluding two episodes which ran this past weekend, and which cover from the end of the trial till today (the Frontline documentary came out the year before he went down in Vegas). Virtually every major player, save for the Juice himself, was interviewed today, and the footage they showed, particularly crime scene photos which had never been released before, was harrowing.

However, in all those hours of newly produced footage about him, the murder, his near or subsequent confessions, and his debauched years leading up to Vegas, very little was said or explored on the topic of race, which is astonishing. Because the only reason why Orenthal James Simpson should be discussed today in any capacity, is because of what the trial, verdict, and second trial and verdict say about race relations in this country.

In 1995 he beat the murder rap because he was a famous, wealthy, ex-athlete, tv/movie celebrity who had enough money to put the "dream team" of lawyers together, and who also happened to be black. A black guy married to a white woman who turned up brutally murdered, but who had enough money to buy an outcome that was one of the most racially polarized verdicts in history (t.v. images showing celebrating African-Americans; and angry, jaw clenched white people filled the airwaves).

Fast forward to 2008 and the Juice is just another poor black man on the receiving end of a little "white justice," as one attorney put it in the documentary. For a bungled robbery, carried out by a bunch of middle aged morons who were more laughable and pathetic than threatening, a crime that wouldn't even have generated probation, much less prison time, dude gets 33 years in the slammer, 1 year each for the $33 million verdict against him, and handed down by a white female judge who kept the jury out several days until she could announce the guilty verdict on October 3, 2008, exactly 13 years to the day he walked in 1995 (and ruining a second birthday of mine, thank you very much).

At the time I wrote about the 2008 trial (click on the OJ Again label for past posts), I don't think the sentiment among most people, black or white, was particularly sympathetic or even all that noteworthy. I did note the irony in the outcome of the two trials, but even I had lost the racial lens by which to filter the way the sentence had been handed down. The 30 for 30 documentary at least addressed that part of it, but that was pretty much the only part.

Nonetheless, slowed down by the years in prison (the picture above was from 2015 when an appeal was rejected), the Juice comes up for parole in 2017. I would have bet against him getting it before these new documentaries and movies about him, but now that interest has been generated again on a national scale, I'm not so sure he won't be back on the streets by the end of 2017.

And the reaction will still be notable to watch.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Subjects of a Carceral State

So the Supremes dropped a surprising decision yesterday (well, surprising in that Justice Breyer joined the four conservative justices) re the 4th amendment, outstanding warrants and evidence.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that evidence found by police officers after illegal stops may be used in court if the officers conducted their searches after learning that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority in the 5-to-3 decision, said such searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment when the warrant is valid and unconnected to the conduct that prompted the stop.

Justice Thomas’s opinion drew a fiery dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who said that “it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.”

“This case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time,” she wrote. “It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she wrote. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong.

“If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay,” she continued, “courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”

Justice Sotomayor added that many people were at risk. Federal and state databases show more than 7.8 million outstanding warrants, she wrote, “the vast majority of which appear to be for minor offenses.” There are, she added, 180,000 misdemeanor warrants in Utah. And according to the Justice Department, about 16,000 of the 21,000 residents of Ferguson, Mo., are subject to arrest warrants.
The majority opinion, written by Thomas in his usual stodgy, mundane, poorly reasoned manner, won't be remembered for anything or by anyone. And while the majority of the coverage is on Sotomayor's dissent, this analysis suggests that the 4th amendment, while weakened, is still intact when it comes to random stops and may not be quite as far reaching as the mainstream media analysis suggests. 

Nonetheless, it seems to me Sotomayor's "fiery dissent" was written not so much for the masses as it was a direct broadside at Thomas himself.
“The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner,” she wrote. “But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’— instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger—all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.”

Few institutions in American life have grappled with race and racism like the U.S. Supreme Court, for better or worse, but rarely does it speak about it with this level of detail. Sotomayor’s dissent also ends with what could be read as a veiled nod to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are ‘isolated.’ They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere,” she wrote, citing a 2002 book by two legal scholars who argued abuses against people of color often foreshadow broader injustices. (One could also read it as a reference to the death of Eric Garner.)
As the legal analysis noted, no one joined part IV of her dissent, and so far I can't find much analysis about why Breyer, usually a liberal stalwart on these things, joined the majority. 

But it's a sad day when an illegal stop and any evidence of present criminality gathered, can be admitted into court by virtue of the fact that an outstanding warrant exists (unrelated to the reason you are being stopped). Post hoc ergo propter hoc, I think they call it.

Or as Sotomayor more bluntly put it, just another extension of the carceral or garrison state we live in today. Yes, the 4th amendment still lives, but barely.

The case is Utah v. Strieff (2016)