Thursday, September 11, 2014

Your Militarized Campus

Grenade Launchers, Armored Personnel Carriers, M-16's, All Standard Fare on Campus:

At least 117 colleges have acquired equipment from the department through a federal program, known as the 1033 program, that transfers military surplus to law-enforcement agencies across the country, according to records The Chronicle received after filing Freedom of Information requests with state governments (see table of equipment).

Campus police departments have used the program to obtain military equipment as mundane as men’s trousers (Yale University) and as serious as a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (Ohio State University). Along with the grenade launcher, Central Florida acquired 23 M-16 assault rifles from the Department of Defense.
Luckily none around these parts, but nice to see Kennesaw University representing in the M-16 assault rifle's category. Go Owls!
Some argue that the procurement of tactical gear doesn’t help with the types of crimes that occur more frequently on college campuses, like alcohol-related incidents.
Are you kidding? Nothing would clear a rowdy, drunken frat party faster than a mine-resistant personnel carrier, grenade launchers and drawn bayonets.

Here's the typical myopic, bureaucratic response, justifying the unjustifiable:
“For me, this is a cost savings for taxpayers,” said Jen Day Shaw, associate vice president and dean of students at the University of Florida and chair of the Campus Safety Knowledge Community, a forum for members of Naspa: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. When police departments “have the ability to get equipment that will help them do their jobs at a greatly reduced price,” Ms. Shaw said, “it is a benefit for the whole campus.”
That's the first time I've ever seen scaring your student body into submission and intimidating student dissent referred to as a "benefit," but uh, go Gators.
“It is a force multiplier for us,” said David Perry, chief of police at Florida State University and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. “Typically, we are not staffed at optimum levels. We are not given budgets comparable to some large cities and municipalities, so we need to find ways to make it reach.”
Maybe you're not given budgets "comparable to large cities" because, uh, you're not a large city, Chief.
Michael Qualls, an associate professor of criminal justice at Fort Valley State University, in Georgia, agrees. A retired Army officer, Mr. Qualls worked for several campus police departments before he began teaching. “If we continue on with the 1033 program, as those items become obsolete at the military level and if they become available, why not get ’em?” Mr. Qualls said. “It’s better to be prepared than not prepared.”
For what? An invasion of Fort Valley State in south Georgia?

Most of this is driven by the "active-shooter" scenarios, along the lines of Virginia Tech in 2007. And while there is a remote possibility of this occurring on any campus anywhere in the U.S., the chances are infinitesimally slim.
For Mary Anne Franks, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami, the possibility that an extraordinary event could occur doesn’t justify the procurement of assault rifles and armored vehicles. The real danger Ferguson residents faced came not from a terrorist attack, she said, but from police officers armed with this sort of equipment.

“Mostly, I’m wondering why,” she said. “As much as one might wonder about why major cities are getting this type of equipment—which I think we should wonder about and ask questions about—it seems even stranger to talk about it happening in voluntary communities that don’t experience much violent crime.”

Ms. Franks raised another concern: As students become aware of the military gear some police departments possess, she said, that may curtail their willingness to express themselves and protest.
Precisely. Imagine protesting outside the dean's office for lower tuition (or whatever) and suddenly the jack boots and body armor, tanks and grenade launchers show up. "Hey, Hey, tuition's high, I'm going broke, but don't want to die!"

Anyway, it's just another extension of the militarization of policing that's been going on throughout the U.S. the past 40 years or so. At the end of the day, we deploy the same spectacle of brute, state force on college campuses for the same reason we do it in low-income and minority neighborhoods: social control.

Cross posted to: The Cranky Sociologists

Mean Reviews (via Mean Tweets)

I absolutely love this.

The Internet can be a nasty place, as academics know well from Rate My Professors.

It is on that website that faculty members might learn, for example, that their students think they are “useless” or a “general moron,” and say anyone “would enjoy eating the rectum of a brown, exotic Australian toad” more than taking their course.

Yes, those are real reviews.

Many professors assail the website and anything that might give it credence. But at least some faculty members have recently concluded that the best way to challenge the site and its unsubstantiated ratings is to mock it without mercy.

Lehigh University became the latest institution to use the website as fodder for comedy. Taking a cue from a popular late-night comedy trope in which celebrities read cruel tweets about them, Lehigh filmed faculty members reading negative comments about themselves from Rate My Professors, and posted the videos online.
Watch the clips. I'm just re-posting one of them, but they are all hilarious.

 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Racism and Criminal Justice

The new 44 page report on race and sentencing in America by the Sentencing Project is a tour de force condemnation of the criminal justice system, the racist drug laws and sentences of 80's and 90's, militarized policing and racial profiling, and an outright evisceration of the War on Drugs the past 30+ years.

Some of the conclusions:

  • “Whites are more punitive than blacks and Hispanics even though they experience less crime.”
  • “White Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color and associate people of color with criminality. For example, white respondents in a 2010 survey overestimated the actual share of burglaries, illegal drug sales and juvenile crime committed by African-Americans by 20 percent to 30 percent.”
  • “White Americans who associate crime with blacks and Latinos are more likely to support punitive policies — including capital punishment and mandatory minimum sentencing — than whites with weaker racial associations of crime.”
  • “Whether acting on their own implicit biases or bowing to political exigency, policy makers have fused crime and race in their policy initiatives and statements. They have crafted harsh sentencing laws that impact all Americans and disproportionately incarcerate people of color.”
  • “By increasing support for punitive policies, racial perceptions of crime have made sentencing more severe for all Americans. The United States now has the world’s highest imprisonment rate, with one in nine prisoners serving life sentences. Racial perceptions of crime, combined with other factors, have led to the disparate punishment of people of color. Although blacks and Latinos together comprise just 30 percent of the general population, they account for 58 percent of the prison population.”
  • “By increasing the scale of criminal sanctions and disproportionately directing penalties toward people of color, racial perceptions of crime have been counterproductive for public safety. Racial minorities’ perceptions of unfairness in the criminal justice system have dampened cooperation with police work and impeded criminal trials. In 2013, over two-thirds of African-Americans saw the criminal justice system as biased against blacks, in contrast to one-quarter of whites. 
  • "Whites’ greater punitiveness relative to people of color is especially striking because whites are far less likely than blacks and Hispanics to be victims of crime. "
  • "Researchers have shown that those who attribute crime to individual dispositions are more punitive and less supportive of rehabilitation than those who emphasize environment factors.186 Whites who attribute crime more to individual failings rather than to social contexts are also more likely to believe that crime rates, rather than bias, drive the over-representation of blacks in prisons."
And so on. While much of this is common knowledge for those of us who teach crime and punishment in America, it's a concise history and very worth your time to spend an hour or so digesting the report in total. Even the solutions presented seem workable and easy to implement, given changing philosophies and "smart on crime" movement.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Justice For Sale

Bank of America Reaches $16 billion Settlement With U.S.:

The Justice Department said on Thursday that it had so far recovered nearly $37 billion from big banks for their role in selling shoddy mortgages before the financial crisis.

Such a large number — intended to deter misdeeds in the future — suggests that Wall Street is being made to pay for its role in stoking the subprime debacle. Yet the financial pain inflicted by the settlements may not be as great in the end.

Take the latest, and largest, mortgage settlement. Bank of America has agreed to a $16.65 billion deal with federal and state authorities. The actual financial burden for Bank of America, however, may not exceed $12 billion — certainly a large amount, but one significantly less than the number the government trumpets.
And get this: a lot of it can be written off on their taxes (i.e. YOU the taxpayer are going to pay for it). It's like you robbing someone on the street then having the victim pay a portion of your fine.
The actual pain to the bank could also be significantly reduced by tax deductions. Tax analysts, for instance, estimate that Bank of America could derive $1.6 billion of tax savings on the $4.63 billion of payments to the states and some federal agencies under the settlement. Shares of Bank of America jumped 4 percent on Thursday, suggesting investors believe that the bank could take the settlement in stride.

“The American public is expecting the Justice Department to hold the banks accountable for its misdeeds in the mortgage meltdown,” said Phineas Baxandall, an analyst with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization. “But these tax write-offs shift the burden back onto taxpayers and send the wrong message by treating parts of the settlement as an ordinary business expense.”
For those who have inquired, this is why I think Eric Holder is the worst AG the United States has ever had. Yes, he's done a lot to help reform the criminal justice system, criminal sentencing, and the like. And his visit to Ferguson, MO this past week was well-timed and thoughtful in helping defuse the situation.

But it's astonishing that for this crime of the century, a crime so vast and huge it dwarfs literally every other financial or violent crime ever committed in United States history, not one single person went to prison for it.

What crimes did they commit, you say?
Documents released as part of the $16.65 billion settlement between Bank of America and the Justice Department read like a highlight reel of the mortgage sins that fed the 2008 financial crisis. As part of the deal, the bank and the Justice Department agreed to a “statement of facts” that offers a window into some of the darkest corners of the Countrywide and Merrill mortgage machine that was responsible for funneling a stream of troubled loans that helped devastate the global financial system.

The Justice Department documents also show the failings of the government’s efforts to protect itself against insuring defective mortgages.

One Bank of America employee describes trying to “trick” a system that screened mortgages that the Federal Housing Administration agreed to insure.
Only on Wall Street is "trick" an acceptable euphemism for fraud. 

I wonder how that would hold up on the street level? "No officer, I wasn't robbing the Quick Mart, I was trying to trick them into giving me money. That's all." Or, "Instead of prison time, can't I just settle with the DA?"

Holder et al (including the president) have said repeatedly that we need to "look forward, not backward" when it comes to the crimes of Wall Street. I wonder how victims of street crime would feel about that? "Rather than prosecuting this rapist or mugger or molester, I think it's better we look forward, not backward, and learn from these unfortunate events." Ugh.

It's the ultimate, ignominious ending to the biggest criminal enterprise ever at work in United States history. Pay your fine (most of which will be written off, thus footed by the taxpayer) and go on about your ways (for more, go here).

I can guarantee you two things: 
  1. If these sociopaths on Wall Street knew they were facing hard time in prison, with razor wire, barking dogs, solitary confinement, and sexual assault, this kind of criminal conduct would never have taken place. 
  2. Because they know in the future they'll never go to prison and can pay their way out of the legal system, this shit will happen again.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Junkies and their Dealers

Execution Drugs Quadruple for Texas Prisons:
Texas is paying four times more for its execution drugs from a new supplier, putting it in line with a local consumer rate but well below the cost in at least one other death penalty state.


The prison agency in the nation’s busiest death penalty state paid $13,500 for its most recent batch of pentobarbital at a cost of $1,500 per vial, compared to $350 per dose spent last year, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press under an open records request.

The extra cost comes after the state’s previous supplier refused to provide more of the powerful sedative last year, claiming it had become a target of execution opponents. Prison officials have since found a new compound pharmacy for pentobarbital, and have waged a successful legal battle to keep the business’ name secret.
And wouldn't you, if you were buying dope from drug dealers on the down low? Why, the only way you'd give up the name of your supplier is if we threatened you with incarceration.
Texas responded by switching to pentobarbital, but Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc., the drug’s only U.S.-licensed maker, bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and announced its medication was off-limits for capital punishment.

The Texas prison agency then opted to purchase pentobarbital from The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy until the Houston-area company refused to provide more drugs in October. The owner wrote a letter to the agency accusing state officials of placing him “in the middle of a firestorm” of hate mail and potential litigation when his company’s name became public.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has supported the prison agency’s refusal to publicly name its new supplier, citing a “threat assessment” signed by Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw that says pharmacies selling execution drugs face “a substantial threat of physical harm.”
Makes sense, doesn't it? We don't really like drug dealers in the U.S.
The agency’s higher cost does not appear extraordinary. A survey of nearly two dozen pharmacies in the Houston area shows Nembutal, the brand name for pentobarbital, sells for about $1,500.

The cost is a bargain compared to Missouri, which also uses pentobarbital for executions. Records earlier this year showed state officials paid as much as $8,000 per dose.
A bargain! And don't you love the way some dealers are intruding on other dealers' turf? I can see a real gang war brewing between compounding pharmacies: nerds in white lab coats on one side versus nerds in white lab coats on the other.
At least 10 inmates have execution dates in the coming months, including two in September, which means Texas’ latest batch of pentobarbital is set to run out by the end of the year. The agency has confirmed it will attempt to purchase more drugs.
Like any good addict would. The first step in treating your addiction, Texas (and any other junkie state scrambling to replenish its stash) is to admit you have a problem. And it doesn't sound like that's happening anytime soon in Texas.

UPDATE: Great expose in today's (8/18/14) NYT on Arizona's lethal injections procedures and how they are, literally, "just making shit up as they go along."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Spectacle As Social Control

I've been writing about the militarization of policing on this blog since I started it in 2007, and have been teaching about it in Criminology and Punishment and Society since 2000. With the grotesque events unfolding in a place called Ferguson, Missouri, suddenly everyone seems to be cognizant of the disaster that comes when you give military equipment to domestic law enforcement with little or no training in how or when to deploy such force. It's Keystone Cops meets the Battle for Baghdad, right here in your backyard.

In fact, you get classic footage like this SWAT video, posted by a Georgia police department to their website (but recently removed after national outrage):



I particularly enjoyed reading about (and watching) the Ferguson SWAT arrest two reporters at a McDonald's, decked out in "suburban camouflage."



The defense for jack boots, body armor and camo at McDonald's is found in the following exchange:
Ever see St. Louis County cops in camouflage military fatigues on the street and wonder why they're dressed like they're going to Iraq instead of Creve Coeur? 
That's the county's Tactical Operations Unit -- the SWAT team -- and Sergeant Matthew Pleviak tells Daily RFT that the camouflage is worn so the SWAT cops can "blend in with the environment." 
Blend in with the environment of Creve Coeur? 
"If you go to any subdivison, there's grass and trees and bushes," Pleviak explains.
Snicker. From Walter Olson at the Cato Institute:
Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?
Plus,  the Hamburgler is often present at McDonald's, so there's that.

Oddly (or maybe not, if you can put away your ideological blinders for one second and think rationally), the outrage over the heavy handed SWAT tactics on display in Ferguson have cut across party and ideological lines, one of  the best articulations I've found comes from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (Republican):
When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.
Again, "duh" for those of who have been studying this insanity for years now, but welcome to the debate, ideologues right, middle and left.

The one thing that's missing in all the coverage, however, is historical context. Most of this militarization is chalked up to post-9/11 and the buildup of surveillance, technology, etc. following the advent of the War on Terrorism. But the militarization of policing has been going on since the Johnson administration and the creation of the LEAA (Law Enforcement Assistance Administration) in 1968.

The LEAA funneled federal monies directly to local police departments to increase training, build up firepower and armor and, among other things, create SWAT teams in any department that wanted one. SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) was designed for urban hostage situations. Now, under Nixon's increase of LEAA funding, even Chief Smith of the Podunk Police Department in rural nowhere can have a SWAT team (and does).

This continued throughout the 70's (Ford, Carter), the drug wars of the 80's (Reagan, Bush), then kicked into high gear following the end of the Cold War in the early 90's. Once we stood down from the threat of nuclear war and Communism, all the surplus Defense Department equipment began to find its way to the streets and local police. The Clinton administration (via the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act; aka "The Biden Bill"), accelerated the flow of bayonets, grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers and military firepower to the streets of America.

Following 9/11, the Bush administration created the Department of Homeland Security, which took over LEAA and turned on the spigot of funding for more military equipment (including mine-resistant trucks) in the newly launched War on Terror. The Obama administration has continued the flow, more targeted towards the War on Immigration (for more, see our featured sociologist of the semester Christian Parenti and his book "Lockdown America").

And so we stand today a true garrison state, as originally envisioned by sociologist Harold Lasswell back in 1941: a state maintained by military firepower (Constitution, Posse Comitatus, and common sense be damned).

As Parenti notes in Lockdown, all of this spectacle put on by local law enforcement is not about the immediate threat of convicts, druggies, rioters or even terrorists. Spectacle is a way you control people through brute force and state terror, and these kinds of egregious uses of force have been on display in poor, minority neighborhoods for decades. What seems to have changed here is the Ferguson PD took this into middle class areas, and the immediate social media reaction was swift and intense.

The debate over militarization is, again, much welcomed by those of us who have been sounding the alarm for years now (and met with essentially deaf ears and eye rolls). Let's hope we reach the point soon where our local police departments can stand down from militarization insanity and go back to the business of keeping the peace.

Cross posted to: The Cranky Sociologists

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don't Experiment With Drugs, Kids

Two Hour Botched Execution in Arizona:

Arizona had never tried the two-drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone before it injected an unknown dose into Joseph Wood's veins Wednesday afternoon. Most executions by lethal injection take between 10 and 20 minutes once the drugs are injected, if performed properly. This experimental cocktail took almost two hours to end Wood's life, so long that his lawyer had time to file an emergency stay of execution in federal court, claiming that Wood had been "coughing and snorting for over an hour" by then. "I counted about 660 times he gasped," reported an Arizona Republic reporter who witnessed the execution. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement that Wood "died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer."
And of course, Jan Brewer is perfectly qualified to make that judgment given A. she wasn't there and B. her advanced medical training and background.
Defense attorneys have repeatedly begged the courts to compel corrections officials to at least reveal the source of the drugs that would end their clients' lives. They have repeatedly been refused. This time, Wood and his lawyers tried a First Amendment challenge to execution-secrecy laws, arguing that the public has a right to know how their government puts their fellow citizens to death. This would also give the inmates the facts needed to pursue Eighth Amendment challenges.

But so far, lower courts have deferred to the states' claimed need for secrecy. "The information already released by the state enables informed debate about the lawfulness and propriety of Arizona’s two-drug cocktail," replied federal Judge Jay Bybee of the Ninth Circuit. Wood appealed that decision to the Supreme Court; last night, the justices denied his petition without further comment or dissent. Less than 24 hours later, Wood died choking.
And I noted the irony of "Judge" Bybee being part of the decision two days ago in my post. If anyone should know anything about torture, it's the author of the "Torture Memos" I suppose.

Predictably, the git tuff types are howling back with false equivalents and other straw men regarding what Wood did to end up there (as if we should be using a murderer's actions as our baseline for determining morality and legal punishments), and insisting that the witnesses themselves were wrong (even if they weren't there).
When states were able to use the single-drug protocol with pentobarbital, the executions went smoothly.  The problem here has been caused by those who pressured the suppliers to stop supplying pentobarbital, and any response should be directed at reopening that supply line.

The anti-death-penalty crowd is already throwing around their favorite word, "botched."  Wrong.  Joseph Wood died, as he should have, and he was sedated, not suffering extreme pain or, for that matter, any pain.  That is not "botched."
Again, a pro-death penalty blogger (who wasn't there and has no medical background or training) isn't qualified to make that statement. Although I do like the way he assertively identifies the killer "Joseph Wood" by name...ironically, the Arizona Department of Corrections didn't even know his name when they killed him initially, referring to him as "Robert G. Jones" in a press release. Jones, Wood, Smith, whoever.

More fascinating is that it took so long to be carried out, Wood's lawyers had time to make an appeal in the courts to stop it, even getting Justice Anthony Kennedy on the phone from the Supreme Court.
In a bizarre twist, Mr. Wood’s lawyers filed an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to halt the procedure as Mr. Wood lay on the gurney, and they even called Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court.

“He is still alive,” the lawyers said in the district court appeal, filed just after 3 p.m. “This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment. We respectfully request that this court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol.”

Mr. Wood died before the district court responded, while Justice Kennedy turned down the request to halt the procedure by telephone while Mr. Wood was still alive, said Robin Konrad, a lawyer for Mr. Wood.
Which makes no sense. What, "let's see if he dies first and then make the call to stop it?" I have a hard time believing one of our supreme court justices could be that dense.

Regardless, as I wrote the other day, the death penalty itself is circling the drain and will eventually be relegated to the ash heap of history where it resides in most other civilized worlds. But it won't be before the junkies (er pro-death penalty states experimenting with illicit drugs) and their supporters torture to death scores more in the process.

Cross posted to: The Cranky Sociologists 

UPDATE: Today's NYT (7/25) has more on the fallout of Arizona's chamber of horrors. The state AG has suspended further executions until further notice.
The Arizona attorney general on Thursday called a temporary halt to executions in the state, a day after the convicted killer Joseph R. Wood III died one hour and 57 minutes after his execution began. Death penalty experts said it was one of the longest times it has taken in the United States for drugs to kill a condemned man.

But Charles L. Ryan, the director of the state’s Department of Corrections rejected the notion that the execution was botched, despite the fact that the procedure of death by lethal injection usually takes about 15 minutes. He said in a statement that an autopsy by the Pima County medical examiner, concluded on Thursday, found that the intravenous lines were “perfectly placed,” “the catheters in each arm were completely within the veins” and “there was no leakage of any kind.”

“I am committed to a thorough, transparent and comprehensive review process,” Mr. Ryan said.
LOL. That must be why the names of the execution team, the source of the drugs, and the chain of custody related to those drugs is "state secret" and Mr. Ryan's department has fought tooth and nail from allowing the information to be made public.

Interestingly, one of the judges who dissented in the decision to lift Wood's stay (thus being anti-death penalty) made the same argument the victim's family did in the aftermath: bring back the firing squad.
After the execution on Wednesday, Ms. Dietz’s brother-in-law, Richard Brown, scolded reporters, saying that Mr. Wood “smiled and laughed at us, and then went to sleep.” He added: “So all you people who think that these drugs are bad? Well, to hell with you guys. You guys need to look at the big picture. This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, let's worry about the drugs. Why didn't they give him a bullet?"

In a legal opinion that preceded the execution, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, dissenting from the court’s decision to deny a full hearing over a panel’s granting of a temporary stay of execution for Mr. Wood, said that death by lethal injection should be replaced by more “foolproof” methods, preferably firing squads. Judge Kozinski referred to drug-induced deaths as a “misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful.” 

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Judge Kozinski declined to talk directly about the Wood execution, but said that in general, “bodies are different, and people react differently to the medicine” in lethal injections. “I think mishaps are inevitable” with drugs, he added, “unlike bullets.” Besides, he said, “These medicines are not made to kill people — they are made to heal.”
Precisely. I discuss this in my punishment class every year, but as we have sanitized the methods of killing, we somehow try to pass ourselves as more "humane and enlightened" in the 21st century, and in the process make the death penalty look like it's just someone laying down on a gurney and going to sleep.

The judge is saying: you want to keep the death penalty? Then let's go back to more barbaric methods like firing squads or the electric chair, and open them up to the public so we can see exactly what is taking place in the chamber.

Beyond a few knuckle-dragging supporters, the judge is arguing, most people would be aghast at the machinery of death up close and choose to put an end to it. 

Regardless, we (the people, the state) will continue playing the same games with bone and flesh that the murderers do. And call ourselves more "enlightened" in the process.