Why don’t cops get indicted?

Go read this:

Grand juries were designed to be a check on prosecutors and law enforcement. Instead, they’ve become a corrupt shield to protect those with power and another sword to strike down those without. And it’s now all too obviously past time the system was overhauled to fix that.

Before Wednesday’s shameful decision by a New York grand jury to refuse to indict the police officer who choked to death an unarmed and unresisting Eric Garner, one statistic made clear just how much our justice system has failed:

If you are an ordinary citizen being investigated for a crime by an American grand jury, there is a 99.993% chance you’ll be indicted. Yet if you’re a police officer, that chance falls to effectively nil.

The short answer is because the prosecutors are in bed with, and are part of the same problem as, the cops. It’s not in their interest to prosecute police, so they don’t do it unless there’s absolutely no alternative. This has to change.

More on the subject over at The Nation, which includes this horrifying gem:

First, the big picture. Last year, the FBI tallied 461 “justifiable homicides” committed by law enforcement—justifiable because the Bureau assumes so, and the nation’s courts have not found otherwise. This is the highest number in two decades, even as the nation’s overall homicide rate continues to drop.

Oh, and then there’s this:

Are there any effective civilian oversight systems at any major police department in the US? Nobody I interviewed for this article could name one.

Dept. of Astoundingly Tone-Deaf, Petulant, Whiney Jackoffs

Yesterday, some St. Louis Rams players entered the field pre-game making the “hands-up, don’t-shoot” gesture in solidarity with the protesters.

In a shocking display of maturity and level-headedness, a St. Louis-area police organization has gone completely apoplectic over the protest, and is insisting that the players be punished.

SLPA Executive Director Jeff Roorda, a controversial figure in the Ferguson drama, said “it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over-and-over again” and called on the team and league to discipline the players.

To call Roorda’s characterization misleading is to understate things by a couple orders of magnitude.

Oh, and it’s worth pointing out that this Roorda asshole is in fact a disgraced former officer, and spends his time today working against accountability measures like bodycams.

UPDATE: The NFL will be taking no action against the players. Suck it, St Louis cops!

What Civil Forfeiture Law Means

From the Economist:

WHEN the state accuses you of a crime and seizes your assets before trial, thus preventing you from hiring the counsel of your choice, what recourse do you have? That question is at the heart of Kaley v United States, a case the United States Supreme Court issued its decision on this week. The answer, worryingly, seems to be: None.

Go read the whole thing.

I’m sure the cops would also rather we not have safes. Or locks. Or rights.

Eric Holder is upset that Apple and Google have gone to encryption-by-default, and would prefer they provide law enforcement back doors that I’m SURE would NEVER be compromised. He’s even relying on the “won’t someone think of the children” line, which is more or less a tell that a cop is overreaching.

Fuck. That. If people trusted the government not to snoop inappropriately, encryption like this wouldn’t be nearly as much of a hot-button topic. It’s the Feds’ own heavy-handed, extralegal, unconscionable tactics that have led companies like Apple and Google to employ encryption that they can’t circumvent.

Reap what you sow, jackass.

What Hobby Lobby Gets Us

Ginsburg was right:

One such matter is Perez v. Paragon Contractors, a case that arose out of a Department of Labor investigation into the use of child labor by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (The F.L.D.S. church is an exiled offshoot of the Mormon Church.) In the case, Vernon Steed, a leader of the F.L.D.S. church, refused to answer questions by federal investigators, asserting that he made a religious vow not to discuss church matters. Applying Hobby Lobby, David Sam, a district-court judge in Utah, agreed with Steed, holding that his testimony would amount to a “substantial burden” on his religious beliefs—a standard used in Hobby Lobby—and excused him from testifying. The judge, also echoing Hobby Lobby, said that he needed only to determine that Steed’s views were “sincere” in order to uphold his claim. Judge Sam further noted that the government had failed to prove that demanding Steed’s testimony was not, in the words of the R.F.R.A., “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” That burden seems increasingly difficult for the government to meet.

Yeah, you read that right. A witness was excused from testifying about the possibly illegal practices of his church because it was against his religious beliefs to discuss internal church matters with outsiders.

The Roberts court has given us legally protected Omerta, without so much as pinprick or a burning saint card.

Castle Doctrine? Only for white people.

Say you’re asleep in your house. Say you’re awoken by some goon breaking into your home through a window, so you reach for your pistol to defend your home, property, and family. It is, after all, Texas; if a kid in a hoodie is threatening enough in Florida, then surely someone breaking into your house is threatening.

Gotcha! It was actually a no-knock marijuana raid (that found no drugs, and certainly found nothing to suggest the resident was a kingpin), and you just killed a cop! (A cop who has, posthumously, been awarded a Star of Texas by the governor.)

Oh, you’re also black, so it should come as no surprise that the prosecutor wants to kill you for having the unmitigated gall to defend your home against unknown intruders.

N.B. that nothing found in the raid was actionable at all. They’re trying to execute this guy for shooting at intruders. Which, of course, sounds a lot like another case I remember.

Oh, and further note that the Killeen cops were executing a no-knock, surprise warrant — basically, the most violent sort of raid — in pursuit of a drug now legal for personal use in two states. Whether or not this kind of violent, retrograde enforcement of pot prohibition is a good idea or good use of resources is left as an exercise to the reader.

Police be accountable for murdering black people? Don’t be silly.

An Ohio grand jury has refused to indict the (white) cops who gunned down an unarmed, unthreatening shopper in a Wal-Mart for committed the crime of “holding a toy gun while black.”

There is video evidence that he was doing absolutely nothing that could be construed as a threat. This was straight up murder, and it should surprise absolutely none of you that the cops will get off scott free.

Be aware of what events like this, with no actual consequences for the muderers, mean to a significant portion of the country. Recognize that displays like this and actions like this in the wake of such crimes make it very, very clear that a huge chunk of law enforcement think they’re doing absolutely nothing wrong.

This must change. The longer we allow this to go on, the more we fundamentally damage our society. Hold violent cops accountable, personally and criminally. Limit the powers of police to use force for no good reason. Create real consequences for overreach. End asset forfeiture. And stop recruiting ignorant bullies into LEOs.

Warning: The Criminal Justice System Will Eat You Alive

And they absolutely do not care if you’re guilty or not. In fact, they’ll work miracles to incarcerate you or kill you. And there will be, of course, no consequences for railroading anybody.

  • Consider the example of a man picked up for a minor drug possession charge who somehow managed to commit suicide with a gun undiscovered by two searches, and while his hands were cuffed behind is back!
  • Or about about the sad tale of Tyree Threatt, who is facing charges for a mugging committed in June 27. However, the state admits that on the day in question, he was in jail. Never mind the alibi; make bail or sit in jail some more, because the prosecutors would rather “work it out at trial.”

The real problem is that this is exactly what they SHOULD have done

The CBC is now warning Canadians that US law enforcement will pull them over and steal their cash.

They are absolutely right. Asset forfeiture is a major revenue source for LEOs nationwide, so there is little reason to expect a cop to do anything other than seize whatever they can get away with. They have the power to do so, even if no crime has been committed and no arrest made.

This is, of course, bullshit.

Dept. of Hilarious Compliance

I can’t decide which of these stories is more awesome:

  • In this one, we learn of a mysterious casino in Las Vegas only open one day every two years. Why? Because of a quirk in casino licensing law, the license is tied to a location and remains valid as long as it’s in business one day in the previous two years. The new owners of one site tore down the old building, and haven’t gotten around to building a new one, but they keep the license good by bringing in a trailer full of slots at least every two years and opening THAT as their casino.

  • This one is even funnier. In Indiana, apparently, joints that sell booze by the drink must also have food service available at all times. The linked menu for the Bank Street Brewhouse in New Albany includes such delights as canned soup and microwaved hot dogs with no condiments, both at $10.

I smell a lawsuit

The Air Force has, apparently, reinstated a regulation requiring personnel to swear an oath to God as part of re-enlistment.

Nonbeliever Air Force personnel are, needless to say, not terribly pleased by this. I’d love to know whose idea this was.

Chips in immunity?

Cops generally operate with impunity because they’re almost never indicted, and even if civil actiosn ensue they’re insulated by qualified immunity, but one court has ruled that overly aggressive and reckless tactics invalidate that protection.

Check it out:

A U.S. federal appeals court has ruled that Connecticut police cannot claim immunity to quash lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages from a botched 2008 raid by a SWAT team that severely injured a homeowner and killed his friend.

The decision by the U.S. 2nd Court of Appeals in New York clears the way for a judge to decide whether five suburban Connecticut police departments violated the constitutional rights of homeowner Ronald Terebesi by using excessive force.

On May 18, 2008, a heavily armed SWAT – or special weapons and tactics – team unit knocked down Terebesi’s door, threw stun flash grenades into his Easton home and fatally shot 33-year-old Gonzalo Guizan of Norfolk as the two men watched television.

There’s more. Click through. As I’ve said a thousand times, shit like this won’t quit happening until there’s real accountability. This is a step in the right direction.

Hearing the smackdown with your own ears is delicious. Indulge yourself.

Bigots are losing their fight against same-sex marriage in nearly every court they visit, so that part isn’t news. What’s fun is that in this case, in the 7th Circuit, the jurist is Richard Posner, a brilliant man (and Reagan appointee), and there’s audio you can listen to of him dismantling the attempts by Wisconsin and Indiana to defend their anti-SSM measures.

Enjoy.

Cops lie? UNPOSSIBLE.

Thank God for dash cams:

Two cops from Bloomfield, NJ’s police department have been indicted, and another plead guilty after a suppressed dashcam video showed them beating a man who was facing years in prison for “resisting arrest” (the DA dropped his charges right away).

The video — shot from a second police car that crossed the highway median and rammed the victim’s vehicle — shows the cops screaming “stop resisting” and “stop going for my gun” while the victim, Marcus Jeter, held his hands in the air and one cop aimed a pistol and another aimed a shotgun at him. The Bloomfield PD’s internal investigations department found no evidence of any wrongdoing by the cops.

How many times does this happen without dashcam footage? How many people are in jail because of it?

This Just In: Cops Gonna Cop

Former LA PD: “If y’all would just do what we tell you, we wouldn’t have to beat you, tase you, and shoot you! Easy!”

Obviously, this approach is rife with problems, as has been amply pointed out elsewhere, but the whole pissy little article reminds us of nothing so much as this:

That’s funny and all, but the attitude embodied by this shitstain from LA is clearly the one that governs policing at this level. They operate with impunity, secure in the knowledge that they will never be called to account for their actions. Why else would the cops in Ferguson be removing their badges and nameplates — with the tacit approval of their superiors?

What’s more dangerous: Cops or Terrorists?

For an American, the answer is simple and obvious: You are EIGHT TIMES more likely to be killed by a law enforcement officer than by a terrorist.

The stats CATO cites are from here, and are themselves issued by the National Safety Council, the National Center for Health Statistics, the Census Bureau, and mortality data from the CDC.

The point of the original post was to point out how fantastically rare acts of terror are, and to helpfully keep people from making stupid choices based on their fear of a very unlikely event.

That doesn’t take away from the stark reality, though, that Officer Friendly is, statistically speaking, much more likely to kill you than Al Qaeda.

Note that these stats are for all Americans, and do not reflect the new rules that apparently allow cops, or people who wish they were cops, to kill unarmed black men with impunity.

I’m glad we don’t live in a police state

…where heavily armed cops could barge into your home and nearly kill your child trying to serve a no-knock search warrent.

Oh. Wait.

The Swat team that burst into the Phonesavanh’s room looking for a drug dealer had deployed a tactic commonly used by the US military in warzones, and increasingly by domestic police forces across the US. They threw an explosive device called a flashbang that is designed to distract and temporarily blind suspects to allow officers to overpower and detain them. The device had landed in Bou Bou’s cot and detonated in the baby’s face.

Stop letting police get away with behaving like military units. Policing is not a war. Cops who do things like this should be vulnerable to severe civil and criminal penalties. Only then will this stop.

(This coverage is, of course, at the Guardian. That’s shameful.)

Wyoming to Science: Drop Dead

Apparently seeking to exceed my home state in sheer pigheaded ignorance, the state school board in Wyoming has rejected the Next Generation Science Standards:

The science guidelines in question are the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), adopted so far by 11 states and the District of Columbia. The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science—working with 26 state governments—developed the NGSS to update K-12 science education in schools for the first time since 1998. Essentially the NGSS provides benchmarks for what students should learn in each grade, but leaves decisions about specific textbooks and how to teach the curriculum up to individual districts, schools and educators.

In Wyoming, a committee comprised of 30 science educators spent 18 months studying and comparing the NGSS with existing guidelines in other states, and then unanimously recommended that it be adopted by the State Board of Education. However, in March, the legislature added a footnote to the state budget that prohibited any public spending to implement the NGSS—effectively killing it. Then, a month later, the State Board of Education told the committee of science educators to develop a new set of standards, which would better reflect the values and economic interests of Wyoming.

The chair of the state board opined that he doesn’t accept climate change as a fact, and frets that the standards are biased against fossil fuel development.

Unpack that for a minute: the standards suggest children lean settled science. The science shows that fossil fuels are causing no small amount of harm. They are concerned that learning this information will hurt an industry.

I mean: Damn.

Last night, Mrs Heathen and I watched the episode of Cosmos about Clair Patterson’s work exposing the dangers of lead emissions from gasoline, and how vigorously opposed he was by the oil industry at the time.

The oil goons even had a so-called expert on their payroll who insisted that the levels of lead in the environmental background at the time were completely normal. (Eventually, Patterson prevailed, and lead has been phased out — and, wouldn’t you know it, lead levels have dropped dramatically.)

You’d think they’d learn, but apparently not. You’d think we as a culture would learn, too, not to listen to people who say pollution is no big deal when they stand to make money doing so.

How We Are Doomed

How Corporations became people you can’t sue:

Following the 2011 and 2013 Supreme Court rulings, dozens of other giant corporations—from Comcast and Wells Fargo to Ticketmaster and Dropbox—have secured the same legal immunity. So have companies ranging from airlines, gyms, payday lenders, and nursing homes, which have quietly rewritten the fine print of their contracts with consumers to include a shield from lawsuits and class actions. Meanwhile, businesses including Goldman Sachs, Northrop Grumman, P. F. Chang’s, and Uber have tucked similar clauses into their contracts with workers.

Hastily clicking through terms of service is now all it can take to surrender your rights to these companies. Once you do, your only path for recourse if you’re harmed by any one of them is “mandatory arbitration,” where the arbitrator is often chosen by the corporation you’re challenging, and any revelations about the company’s wrongdoing tend to be kept secret. Rather than band together under the light of the public courtroom, each individual has to work through the darkness of a private tribunal, alone, where arbitrators can interpret laws however they wish. Certain inalienable rights, the Court has ruled, are actually kind of alienable.

The Lavabit Founder Speaks

Writing in The Guardian — which is, apparently, the only newspaper left with any balls — Ladar Levison explains the horrifying and Kafkaesque process by which the greedy, powermad, overreaching Feds forced him to destroy his business.

He was given no real chance to fight the orders, and when he tried to muster a defense the Feds became vindictive. This isn’t justice, or national security. This is abuse of power. It should result in long prison terms, but of course nothing of the sort will happen. The government still wants Snowden to come home and face trial for the “crime” of telling us all what our government is doing in our name; those responsible for the criminally invasive universal surveillance will never face accountability of any kind.

Because there’s nothing law enforcement hates more than transparency

In order to prevent the records from being turned over to the ACLU, it appears US Marshalls have “seized” documents regarding the use of a surveillance tool called Stingray by the Sarasota Police Department.

ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler called the move “truly extraordinary and beyond the worst transparency violations” the group has seen regarding documents detailing police use of the technology.

“This is consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for stingray information,” Wessler said, noting that federal authorities have in other cases invoked the Homeland Security Act to prevent the release of such records. “The feds are working very hard to block any release of this information to the public.”

Some judge needs to remind these chuckleheads who they work for.

Dept. of You Must Be Shitting Me

Michael Kinsley, whom I thought was at one point a journalist, had this to say in his snarky, crappy review of Glenn Greenwald’s book about the Snowden affair:

The question is who decides [what to publish]. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

This is a shockingly full-throated endorsement of prior restraint. The government tried this tactic with the Pentagon Papers, and got slapped down pretty hard. More’s the pity, at least according to Kinsley.

Dept. of Truly Brilliant Drunken Feats

On two separate occasions in the 1950s, New Yorker Thomas Fitzpatrick departed from a bar whose hospitality he was enjoying, drove out to New Jersey, “obtained” a small plane, flew it back to Manhattan, and landed it in front of the bar in question.

The first time, it was to win a bet. The second time, two years later, was because someone didn’t believe he’d done it the first time.

This man is a truly an American hero.

How We Are Fucked: The End of Net Neutrality

The milquetoast, lapdog FCC has decided against network neutrality, and we’re all going to suffer for it. Read Tim Wu’s excellent analysis for more, but do NOT overlook that the person doing a big chunk of the fucking us right now lives at 1600 Pennsylvania; Obama campaigned on neutrality, and has completely failed to deliver.

From Wu’s piece in the New Yorker:

In 2007, at a public forum at Coe College, in Iowa, Presidential candidate Barack Obama was asked about net neutrality. Specifically, “Would you make it a priority in your first year of office to reinstate net neutrality as the law of the land? And would you pledge to only appoint F.C.C. commissioners that support open Internet principles like net neutrality?”

“The answer is yes,” Obama replied. “I am a strong supporter of net neutrality.” Explaining, he said, “What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you’re getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites…. And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there.”

If reports in the Wall Street Journal are correct, Obama’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, has proposed a new rule that is an explicit and blatant violation of this promise. In fact, it permits and encourages exactly what Obama warned against: broadband carriers acting as gatekeepers and charging Web sites a payola payment to reach customers through a “fast lane.”

Also, don’t get taken in by the language being used. As Marco points out, the whole discussion of “fast lanes” frames the issue incorrectly. They’re not going to build anything new, and haven’t for years (US customers pay more for broadband, and get lower speeds, than virtually anywhere else in the industrialized world). Your connection isn’t going to get better. This is all about carriers being able to charge providers again for traffic that’s already been paid for — and you can bet your ass it’ll also eventually include blocking or slowing traffic that competes with offerings of their own. This is why we hear so much about NetFlix in these conversations: it’s a direct competitor to Comcast and AT&T and Verizon, all of which would prefer you continue to pay through the nose for traditional cable packages and avoid these newfangled “Internet shows.”

This is what happens, too, in a political environment where any regulation is treated as creeping socialism by the know-nothing right. The noise chamber effect prevents just and proper things from taking hold.