Monday, December 15, 2014

185.7 - Eric Garner and untouchable cops

Eric Garner and untouchable cops

Last week I said there was much more to talk about with regard to the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, MO. Little did I know that that discussion would have to be put aside to address an even more egregious case: the unpunished killing of Eric Garner.

Back on July 17, Eric Garner was in Tompkinsville, a section of Staten Island in New York City. He was accused by cops of selling untaxed cigarettes, of which he apparently did have a history. He protested that he had done nothing wrong - a claim supported to the police at the time by an eyewitness - but the cops demanded he put his arms behind his back to be handcuffed. When he protested, NYPD cop Daniel Pantaleo grabbed him from behind, wrapping his arm around Garner's neck and wrestling him to the pavement, using an illegal choke hold, and pressing his face into the pavement. The other cops swarmed over Garner, pinning him to the pavement, face down. Garner, in a chokehold with other cops piled on him, several times protested that he couldn't breathe. The cops ignored him. Finally, he went limp. And later he died.

On December 3, a Staten Island grand jury refused to indict white cop Daniel Pantaleo in the death of unarmed black man Eric Garner.

This decision came despite the fact that there is video showing showing everything I just described. Despite the fact that the video shows Pantaleo grabbing Garner from behind, despite the video showing cops swarming over Garner, despite the clear proof of Pantaleo using a choke hold which has been specifically banned by the NYPD for 21 years precisely because of the risk of killing someone, despite the clear view of Pantaleo pushing Garner's face into the pavement, despite the undeniable fact that Garner repeatedly protested "I can't breathe."

Despite that, no indictment. No charge. Not murder, not manslaughter, not even unintentional manslaughter, not even some sort of negligence. No charge.

Despite the clear recorded proof that even the cops couldn't deny, no indictment. No charge.

Despite the fact that the medical examiner called it a homicide and that it was the chokehold that killed Eric Garner, no indictment. No charge.

You want to know how bad this was? You want to know how shocking it was?

Even Bill O'Reilly was troubled by it. Even posters at the leading right-wing website HotAir.com and RedState.com called the decision things like "baffling" and "infuriating." A writer for National Review slammed it. Even Charles freaking Krauthammer called it "totally incomprehensible."

But there was no indictment, no charge. And again an unarmed black man is dead and again a white cop walks scot-free.

What in hell does it take? What does it take to get a cop indicted? How much evidence is needed? How much proof is required? If video evidence and the report of the medical examiner is not enough, what would be?

This is the other part of this. I talked last week and again just now about white cops killing unarmed black men and getting away with it. But it's more than that. It's cops in general getting away with murder.

I talked last week about the fact that a prosecutor who brings a case to a grand jury and really wants to get an indictment can get one. Despite their supposed independence, grand juries are creatures of the prosecution: The only evidence they see is what the prosecutor shows them; their understanding of the law is from what the prosecutor tells them.

So why are cops the one exception to the rule? Why, when as the saying goes, a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, why do cops over and over and over again walk away free, untouched, uncharged, unindicted?

And yes, it is over and over and over again.

A recent study
by the Houston Chronicle of grand juries in Harris County, Texas - Harris County being where Houston is - revealed that Houston cops involved in shootings have been cleared by those grand juries 288 consecutive times, dating back to 2004. Between 2008 and 2012, Houston cops shot 121 people, 52 of them fatally. More than a quarter of those people, including 10 of those who died, were unarmed.

Officers shot unarmed civilians who “reached” or “grabbed” for their waistlines or held objects such as cellphones or a hairbrush that the cops claimed to have mistaken for weapons.

The paper also noted that in Dallas, 81 shootings involving 175 officers from 2008 to 2012 resulted in exactly only one cop being indicted. No cop in Chicago has been charged in an on-duty shooting since 2007.

US cops kill approximately 1,000 citizens per year. According to a study by Bowling Green State University, those 1,000 shooting produce an average of four indictments. 99.6% of the time a cop kills someone, there isn't even a trial. Even if we were to say that 90% of those killings were clearly, obviously, justified, no doubt, the cop's life was unquestionably in immediate danger, absolutely self-defense, that would still mean that 96 times out of a hundred, 96% of the time even where there is a question, nothing happens. Not even a trial.

In fact, even for small crap, cops virtually never get indicted - if the case even gets as far as a grand jury. As a practical matter, cops are almost immune from legal consequences for their actions.

Why? Why is it so hard to hold cops responsible for their actions?

Because for one thing, grand juries don't want to indict cops. Most people - lord knows why - most people just trust cops more than their accusers, no matter the evidence. Actually, lord does know why: We are socially conditioned to defer to authority, to accept the word of authority over non-authority.

Don't believe me, think you're different? We'll do a little thought experiment. I'll give you two statements. One is by an arresting cop who says "he" - we'll assume it was a he - "was committing a crime and he resisted arrest, so I had to use increased force." The other is by the accused, who says "I was just minding my own business and this cop comes and starts hassling me. I tell him to leave me alone and he attacks me." Who do you think you'd tend to believe based on that? And if you think, as most people would, the cop - congratulations, you've just exonerated Daniel Pantaleo in the killing of Eric Garner. Because you assumed that the cop - the official, the authority - must be more trustworthy.

But a bigger reason is that prosecutors do not want to indict cops. They depend on cops for the investigations that provide them the evidence they need to go after criminals. They work with them on a regular basis. They associate with them. They are "on the same team." They have, that is, both a professional need for, and a personal bias in favor of, cops.

And there's one more reason, a legal - or rather legalistic - one. The legal standard for justifying deadly force set by the Supreme Court in the 1980s is "objective reasonableness." A cop who kills someone isn't liable if the killing was "objectively reasonable." What's wrong with that? As civil rights attorney Chase Madar wrote recently,
[I]n actual courtroom practice, “objective reasonableness” has become nearly impossible to tell apart from the subjective snap judgments of panic-fueled police officers. American courts universally defer to the law enforcement officer’s own personal assessment of the threat at the time.
No second-guessing allowed; no hindsight is permitted. If a cop claims they felt threatened, that's good enough. Even if they are demonstrably wrong, as in a 2000 case when two cops shot and killed the occupants of a car which the cops claimed was being driven at them: Forensic evidence proved the car was stationary at the time. No matter. No charge.

That applied to Darren Wilson, too: Darren Wilson's account of what happened cannot be correct. Cannot be.

This is beyond the ways in which he clearly changed his story between his initial statements to police, saying initially that he did not realize that Michael Brown fit the description of someone accused of stealing cigars from a convenience store not long before and that Brown pushed "something" into the hands of Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown at the time, only to tell the grand jury that he did know Brown fit the description and that it was definitely a handful of cigars Brown gave to Johnson.

This is not about that. It has to do with an audio recording that by coincidence caught the sounds of Wilson firing his gun.

It was caught in the background of a video chat by someone who didn't realize its significance until later. The sound clip was analyzed by the creators of ShotSpotter, which is used by police in 65 cities, including Ferguson, to identify and pinpoint shootings. (The ones in Ferguson are too far from the scene of Brown's killing to be of use here.)

Their analysis indicated there were 10 shots fired from a single spot by a single shooter over a period of just over 6.5 seconds.

In his description of the event to police, Wilson claimed Brown "charged" at him from about 30 feet away and when he got within 15 feet, 15 feet, Wilson fired his first shot. However, he claimed Brown didn't even slow down. He fired twice more and then once more, killing Brown.

Okay. The shots covered just over 6.5 seconds. Wilson claims Brown was "charging." But even at normal walking speed of 3 miles an hour, in that time Brown would have covered nearly 29 feet, nearly double the distance Wilson claimed. Wilson's testimony cannot be true. Period.

But it doesn't matter. If Wilson, in an adrenalin-fueled panic, just thought it was true, that's good enough.

We are not only socialized to believe the cop, not only do prosecutors not want to charge cops, we are almost legally-required to believe the cop and we can't even say "unless the evidence says otherwise" because even when we have a video and a medical examiner's report it's not good enough to overcome that triple bias.

Frank Serpico - remember him? - said it recently in an op-ed in the NY Daily News:
In the old days, they used to put a gun or a knife on somebody after a shooting. Now they don't even bother.

But today, we have cops crying wolf all the time. They testify "I was in fear of my life," the grand jury buys it, the DA winks and nods, and there's no indictment.
It's time to stop talking about "a broken system" and how we have to "repair" the "broken system." It's time to recognize that this is the system. These cases are not aberrations of the system, they are the way the system is supposed to work. Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo and the rest are supposed to get off. Because they are simultaneously tools of, protectors of, enablers of, and part of authority, of power, in a society that increasingly sees fewer and fewer having, controlling, more and more  while more and more have, control, less and less and a society that still, despite all our claims to advancement, still values black lives less than white ones.

We don't need "reform." We don't need palliatives and soporifics like body cameras - again, ask Eric Garner how much good video does, except oh wait, we can't. We need an entire, fundamental, dare I say radical, change in how we view cops and the role of cops; more, a radical change in how we view authority, in how we view the distribution of wealth and power in our society.

It needs to be said at this point that most cops are decent people trying to do a professional job, trying to do the best they can for themselves, their families, and their communities. But we cannot trust ourselves, or our families, or our communities - especially communities of color - we cannot trust our liberties and our very lives to the mere hope that those cops will not be corrupted by the cop culture in which they are immersed, a culture that sees the world as "us versus them," of "insiders versus outsiders" in which we are the outsiders in our own communities, a culture that increasingly sees itself not as a community resource but as an occupying force, a culture that engenders in cops a constant terror, a constant fear, an unceasing tension that they are constantly at risk of their lives even though, measured by the actual rate of on-the-job deaths, in this country being a cop doesn't even make the top 10.

That cop culture is why recently, a poster at the website DailyKos.com could write that "there are no good cops anymore," "good cops" being defined there as those who "do the right thing, even when it's incredibly hard, even when they have to go up against other cops." That is, he said, cops who do the right thing when they have some skin in the game. Cops, as I say, who have not been morally corrupted, who have not had their ethical compass permanently demagnitized by the polluted waters in which they swim on a daily basis.  And yes, they are increasingly rare.

Now we  just have to wait to see what the excuse will be, why there will be no charges against the cop, in the murder - yes I said murder - of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Sources cited in llinks:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/03/eric-garner_n_6263656.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/nyregion/grand-jury-said-to-bring-no-charges-in-staten-island-chokehold-death-of-eric-garner.html
http://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/24/nyregion/kelly-bans-choke-holds-by-officers.html
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/eric-garner-death-ruled-homicide-medical-examiner-article-1.1888808
http://observer.com/2014/12/bill-oreilly-reacts-to-the-grand-jury-acquittal/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/03/eric-garner-conservatives-chokehold_n_6264886.html
http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/investigations/item/Bulletproof-Part-3-Hard-to-charge-24421.php
http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/investigations/item/Bulletproof-Part-1-Unarmed-and-Dangerous-24419.php
http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2014/1209/Eric-Garner-case-101-Why-grand-juries-rarely-indict-police-officers
http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/allegations-of-police-misconduct-rarely-result-in-charges/
http://www.thenation.com/article/190937/why-its-impossible-indict-cop
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/11/25/brown-family-blasts-prosecutors-handling-of-case/20998954/
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/01/1348720/-The-audio-recording-of-the-Michael-Brown-shooting-proves-Darren-Wilson-s-story-is-false
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/09/02/acoustic-experts-detail-purported-ferguson-shooting/
http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1370562-14-43984-care-main.html
http://www.usroads.com/journals/p/rej/9710/re971001.htm
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/06/1349809/-Frank-Serpico-Speaks
http://www.thenation.com/blog/191929/system-failed-eric-garner-and-michael-brown-cannot-be-reformed
http://www.thenation.com/article/191985/we-dont-just-need-nicer-cops-we-need-fewer-cops
http://www.statista.com/statistics/284870/occupational-with-high-fatal-work-injury-rates-in-the-us-in-2012/
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/05/1349702/-There-simply-are-No-Good-Cops-Anymore
http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/26/justice/cleveland-police-shooting/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/11/26/officials-release-video-names-in-fatal-police-shooting-of-12-year-old-cleveland-boy/

185.6 - Hero Award 3: John Legend and Chrissy Teigen

Hero Award 3: John Legend and Chrissy Teigen

Our third Hero Award goes to musician John Legend and his wife, model Chrissy Teigen.

People have been protesting in NY to express their outrage over the recent grand jury decisions in the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. A number of celebrities have also expressed their opinions on the matter, but this celebrity couple decided to put their money where their tweets are.

Chrissy Teigen, John Legend
On Sunday, December 7, they hired a whole bunch of food trucks to come and pass out free meals to demonstrators and the homeless. There were a variety of trucks providing a variety of food and each of them gave out hundreds of free meals.

The trucks were organized by Operation Help or Hush, which grew from Twitter exchanges into on-the-streets protests.

And by the way, even though they were publicly thanked - on Twitter, of course - the couple has not directly acknowledged being the source of the money for this.

Taking the action while not seeking the credit is hard for any of us, I expect, we all have egos, and I also expect it's even truer for celebrities since their lives so often are organized around publicity. Which is another reason to say that John Legend and Chrissy Teigen are heroes.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/12/08/john-legend-and-chrissy-teigen-hire-food-trucks-to-feed-hungry-nyc/21004091/
http://operationhelporhush.org/

185.5 - Hero Award 2: Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez

Hero Award 2: Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez

Our next heroes are two employees at a now-closed assisted living facility in Castro Valley, CA: Maurice Rowland, a cook, and Miguel Alvarez, the janitor.

This is not new, in fact it happened last year, but I just heard about it and it is certainly worth noting.

In October 2013, the Community Care Licensing Division of California's Department of Social Services ordered the facility shut down as the result of a laundry list of violations including handling injuries improperly and neglecting to hand out appropriate medications.

The residents were supposed to be relocated, but the department screwed up and even though most of the staff had already left, 16 residents - some of them confined to their beds - were left behind to fend for themselves.

That's when Rowland and Alvarez got together and decided they couldn't leave the residents alone. Despite their limited training, they bathed and fed the residents and doled out their medications. They worked around the clock for days - without getting paid, mind you - only taking quick breaks to shower.

Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez
When a resident's condition started to deteriorate, the pair called 911 - and after that happened four times, authorities finally got the message that hey, something is wrong here and the fire department and sheriff's office stepped in.

All the residents were safely relocated and the incident lead the California state legislature to pass laws to hopefully prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again.

Which leaves only one question: Where are the medals for Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez, who clearly are heroes.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/01/valley-springs-manor-closes_n_6223160.html
http://www.npr.org/2014/11/21/365433685/if-we-left-they-wouldnt-have-nobody

185.4 - Hero Award 1: Matt Tribe

Hero Award 1: Matt Tribe

In fact, it's been a bad enough week that before I get to what I want to spend most of the time on this week, I'm going to try to cheer myself up by giving out not one, not two, but three Hero Awards, which we give around here as the occasion arises to someone who just does the right thing on a matter big or small.

Our first hero this week is Matt Tribe of Ogden, Utah.

This past fall, Olive Garden ran this promo where for $100 you could get a "Never Ending Pasta Pass," with which you could eat as much pasta as you possibly could over the course of seven weeks.

Tribe got a pass and then figured he couldn't possibly eat that much pasta. So instead, he embarked on what he called Random Acts of Pasta. He went to different Olive Gardens several times a day, got a take-out order of pasta, and, quoting him,
I’d just go show up at someone’s house and brighten their life with some Olive Garden.
By the end of the seven weeks, Tribe used the pass for himself 14 times, and was still able to feed 125 people - including at least 10 who were homeless.

Of course, no good deed goes unsuspected in our cynical age where it's considered the height of hipness to sneer at anything that smacks of unselfishness, so there are lots of people claiming this is just a marketing stunt by Olive Garden. Of course, like all good conspiracy notions, this one requires the perpetrator of the hoax - in this case, Olive Garden - to be both amazingly clever and rock-brained stupid in exactly the correct ways and measures needed to provide the "obvious" proof of the deviousness.

Matt Tribe
Olive Garden denied any involvement except for providing the pasta - which to the conspiracy theorists only proved it was a stunt.

For his part, Matt Tribe responded to all the vituperation by tweeting
I genuinely wanted to do something nice for people and now everyone hates me. Half of the people call me a thief, half of the people say its PR from Olive Garden. I'm having a real hard time with it all.
Not everyone, guy. I think you're a hero.

And you know what? If it turns out it was a marketing ploy, I don't care! It still means a bunch of hungry folks got a hot meal.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/02/olive-garden-pasta-homeless_n_6251060.html
http://www.randomactsofpasta.com/
http://time.com/3612709/olive-garden-pasta-pass-feed-homeless/

185.3 - Not Good News 3: Again devaluing workers

Not Good News 3: Again devaluing workers

Finally for now, on the home front we have a unanimous Supreme Court declaring that if your employer keeps you after your shift is over for a mandatory "security check" - that is, they treat every employee every day as a suspected thief - they don't have to pay you for the time you're stuck there because, after all, you're not "working."

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence "Uncle" Thomas said the screening process is not a "principal activity" of the workers' jobs, “one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.”

The fact that you can't keep your job if you "dispense" with this humiliating check - which would certainly seem to hinder your ability to "perform your principal activities" - didn't matter. Of course.

So not only can employers search your personal belongings, they can do it on your time. I'm sure this has something to do with "the dignity of work," but I just can't figure out what.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/09/us-usa-court-workers-idUSKBN0JN1P820141209

185.2 - Not Good News 2: Obama wants no restrictions on his war

Not Good News 2: Obama wants no restrictions on his war

Next up, we have our Nobel Peace Prize Prez swearing up and down that he is not going to expand his lovely little war against ISIS beyond Iraq and Syria and swearing "no boots on the ground" while at the same time demanding Congress not pass legislation saying that he can't do what he swears he won't.

Meanwhile, he insists that he don't need no new stinkin' resolution to do whatever he wants anyway, because he's the Commander-in-Chief, doncha know, and screw all that "Congressional powers" nonsense, all the while using language that would sit comfortably on the lips of George Bush or "The Big" Dick Cheney.

And liberals and faux "progressives" still fall all over themselves over this guy. Unbelievable.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/12/broadening-the-war-against-isis/383588/

185.1 - Not Good News 1: Torture report shows again we can be as scummy as any other nation

Not Good News 1: Torture report shows again we can be as scummy as any other nation

There will be no Good News to start this week; it's been a really bad week. Just to give a sense of it, I'm going to start off with three pieces of Not Good News.

First, we have the release of the report on the CIA's use of torture in the wake of 9/11 which had to be done over the objections of President Hopey-Changey and his "most transparent administration ever."

The release is a good thing, I expect, even though it really just reminds us of the facts that we can be a really scummy nation that is ready to at the first provocation to descend to the depravity we ascribe to enemies and that for all the torture, the only one who has paid a price is former CIA agent John Kiriakou, sent to prison for the crime of being the one to first tell us about the torture.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/09/senate-cia-report_n_6270138.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/05/cia-kerry-report_n_6278242.html
http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/30/ex_cia_agent_whistleblower_john_kiriakou

Left Side of the Aisle #185

Sorry this is so late but for some reason YouTube is not letting me embed my own videos and yes I made sure all the correct boxes were ticked. So I finally gave up for now and did it this way.

So to see the show, you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way by going to the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OISyvbCmse8&list=UU31ZArK0ZQieJGcj9IO52wA


Not Good News 1: Torture report shows again we can be as scummy as any other nation
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/09/senate-cia-report_n_6270138.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/05/cia-kerry-report_n_6278242.html
http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/30/ex_cia_agent_whistleblower_john_kiriakou

Not Good News 2: Obama wants no restrictions on his war
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/12/broadening-the-war-against-isis/383588/

Not Good News 3: Again devaluing workers
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/09/us-usa-court-workers-idUSKBN0JN1P820141209

Hero Award 1: Matt Tribe
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/02/olive-garden-pasta-homeless_n_6251060.html
http://www.randomactsofpasta.com/
http://time.com/3612709/olive-garden-pasta-pass-feed-homeless/

Hero Award 2: Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/01/valley-springs-manor-closes_n_6223160.html
http://www.npr.org/2014/11/21/365433685/if-we-left-they-wouldnt-have-nobody

Hero Award 3: John Legend and Chrissy Teigen
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/12/08/john-legend-and-chrissy-teigen-hire-food-trucks-to-feed-hungry-nyc/21004091/
http://operationhelporhush.org/

Eric Garner and untouchable cops
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/03/eric-garner_n_6263656.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/nyregion/grand-jury-said-to-bring-no-charges-in-staten-island-chokehold-death-of-eric-garner.html
http://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/24/nyregion/kelly-bans-choke-holds-by-officers.html
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/eric-garner-death-ruled-homicide-medical-examiner-article-1.1888808
http://observer.com/2014/12/bill-oreilly-reacts-to-the-grand-jury-acquittal/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/03/eric-garner-conservatives-chokehold_n_6264886.html
http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/investigations/item/Bulletproof-Part-3-Hard-to-charge-24421.php
http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/investigations/item/Bulletproof-Part-1-Unarmed-and-Dangerous-24419.php
http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2014/1209/Eric-Garner-case-101-Why-grand-juries-rarely-indict-police-officers
http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/allegations-of-police-misconduct-rarely-result-in-charges/
http://www.thenation.com/article/190937/why-its-impossible-indict-cop
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/11/25/brown-family-blasts-prosecutors-handling-of-case/20998954/
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/01/1348720/-The-audio-recording-of-the-Michael-Brown-shooting-proves-Darren-Wilson-s-story-is-false
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/09/02/acoustic-experts-detail-purported-ferguson-shooting/
http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1370562-14-43984-care-main.html
http://www.usroads.com/journals/p/rej/9710/re971001.htm
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/06/1349809/-Frank-Serpico-Speaks
http://www.thenation.com/blog/191929/system-failed-eric-garner-and-michael-brown-cannot-be-reformed
http://www.thenation.com/article/191985/we-dont-just-need-nicer-cops-we-need-fewer-cops
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/05/1349702/-There-simply-are-No-Good-Cops-Anymore
http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/26/justice/cleveland-police-shooting/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/11/26/officials-release-video-names-in-fatal-police-shooting-of-12-year-old-cleveland-boy/

Saturday, December 06, 2014

184.9 - Outrage of the Week: No indictment in Ferguson

Outrage of the Week: No indictment in Ferguson

Now it's time for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week. And this week, I can bet you know what it it.

Okay, so it happened. Just as we knew it would - we kept hoping it wouldn't, but we knew it would. Which is why even though the taste is so bitter, the disappointment so sharp, there is no sense of surprise. Just the aching hurt of seeing it happen yet again.

Another black man - or black teenager - or black child - shot to death by another white cop. Another white cop walks.

It has long since become depressingly, disgustingly, predictable.

"No probable cause." Not even for involuntary manslaughter. "No probable cause."

Darren Wilson did nothing wrong when he shot down Michael Brown, we're told. Nothing at all. According to St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, sounding like a defense attorney doing a final summation, he was just defending himself. He "feared for his life," so shooting Brown down and then leaving his body lying in the street for four hours, never even bothering to call paramedics, that was just, well, it was ... okay. Reasonable. Appropriate. He was just defending himself.

How do we know that's so? How do we know that's the truth of the matter? Because Darren Wilson is a cop. And Michael Brown, well, he was ... unimportant. Irrelevant. Just another black guy who got aggressive - or, often enough, just mouthy - with a white cop. And we all know - or are supposed to know and to accept - that in that case white cops can't be held responsible for what happens after that. Because the cop "followed procedure" or "acted within guidelines," procedures and guidelines that should result in cops' badge numbers starting with double-0, at least when dealing with young black men. Because there wasn't, there almost never is, "probable cause."

There is much more to talk about here, about the sloppy, error-filled non-investigation by the police, who didn't even bother to take measurements or photographs of the scene, about the fact that Wilson clearly changed his story between his initial police report and his testimony to the Grand Jury, about how his testimony invoked racist cliches about the superpowerful black man who made him feel like "a 5-year-old battling Hulk Hogan" and about the black man who looked like "a demon," and a whole lot more, but I will, for the moment at least, end with this:

The legal purpose of grand juries is supposed to be a check on arbitrary prosecutions, a way of making prosecutors show they have enough evidence to proceed to trial. For that reason, they usually only hear the prosecution case: If that's not good enough for trial, a defense case is unnecessary. But in this case, the prosecutor by his own account introduced "everything" - which means instead of providing any guidance, instead of providing a coherent narrative, instead of presenting a case for "probable cause," which is the only standard a grand jury has to meet to justify an indictment, he just dumped it all in the grand jury's lap and said "you figure it out." It also means, by definition, he introduced any exculpatory evidence or testimony they may have had, material that would normally be presented by the defense at trial, not by the prosecution.

As much as grand juries are in legal fantasy independent panels, they are in reality creatures of the prosecution.

In a famous quote from former NY State Judge Sol Wachtler, if they wanted to a district attorney could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. In 2010, the most recent year for which we have records, US attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in precisely 11 of them.

Now, that's not exactly comparable to this case because those are federal grand juries and this is a state grand jury, but the point remains: A prosecutor who really wants an indictment can get one. And a prosecutor who really does not want an indictment and who has gone to a grand jury only because of political pressure or social protest and doesn't have the guts to admit they don't want one, can insure there isn't one.

I say here for the record that I will go to my grave convinced - and there are a good number of legal authorities including defense attorneys and former prosecutors who agree with me - that prosecutor Robert McCulloch wanted Darren Wilson to get off scot-free and manipulated the grand jury system to make that happen. And justice can go to hell.

And. That. Is. An. Outrage.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/25/us/ferguson-darren-wilson-shooting-michael-brown-grand-jury.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/24/bob-mcculloch-ferguson_n_6215986.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/00_Agent
http://izquotes.com/author/sol-wachtler
http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/ferguson-michael-brown-indictment-darren-wilson/
http://theroottv.theroot.com/video/Legal-Experts-Explain-Why-The-F
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/11/25/3596884/ferguson-legal-experts/

184.8 - Clown Award: 125 members of the Seattle PD

Clown Award: 125 members of the Seattle PD

Several years ago, the federal Justice Department investigated the Seattle police department after several high-profile incidents of excessive force. In 2011 the investigation concluded that officers use excessive force about 20 percent of the time. It noted that, quoting, the “great majority of the City’s police officers are honorable law enforcement professionals” but that didn't change the fact that a “subset of officers” continued to misuse force.

Which, frankly, is probably true of most police forces.

As part of a settlement agreement with the DOJ, over the past year, the Seattle PD has revised its policies on when police can use force.

In response, some 125 Seattle police officers, about 10% of the police union's membership, filed a lawsuit challenging the new rules. (They did this, I will note in fairness, without the support of the union.)

In their filing, which is in essence a long-winded whine that "it's tough to be a cop," the cops argue that the new rules violate their Constitutional rights under the Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, which I gather are the only ones they've ever heard of or they would have included more.

The brief asserts that cops have a Constitutional right not to de-escalate a situation before turning to lethal force, asserting that their use of force is Constitutionally protected
regardless of whether or not there existed less intrusive means, or alternatives to self-defense or defense of others, such as inflicting a less serious injury to, retreating from, or containing, or negotiating with a suspect.
In other words, these cops are asserting they have a Constitutional right to use excessive, unnecessary force - more bluntly, they can use any level of force, any level of violence, up to and including shooting someone to death, any time they think they should and nobody can say boo.

Happily, these Tonton Macoute wanna-bes had their case summarily rejected by a federal judge who declared that they fundamentally misunderstood, even “grossly misconstrued,” the Constitutional protections they were claiming for themselves. And they very likely will fare no better if they appeal.

But that doesn't change the fact that 10% of the police force of a major city have said in effect that they believe they have the right to beat you, even to kill you, even if alternatives exist. Ten percent of the Seattle police department - not the whole department, but one out of every 10 of them, like the one caught punching a woman in the face - consists of clowns. Dangerous, ignorant, heavily armed clowns - but clowns.

Sources cited in links:
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/10/22/3582939/seattle-cops-sued-claiming-they-have-a-constitutional-right-to-use-excessive-force/
https://tribkcpq.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/suit.pd
http://www.coha.org/tonton-macoutes/

184.7 - Hero Award: Australian newscaster Karl Stefanovic

Hero Award: Australian newscaster Karl Stefanovic

Now we have the happy opportunity for one of our occasional features, the Hero Award, given as the occasion arises to someone who just does the right thing on a matter big or small.

This time, our hero is Australian newscaster Karl Stefanovic, co-host of the Australian version of  "Today," who engaged  in what you might well call some performance art to protest sexism.

His co-host is a woman named Lisa Wilkinson, and she regularly received unsolicited fashion advice and appearance-based criticisms from viewers.

Stefanovic became frustrated and decided to conduct an experiment. Except for, he said, a couple of times required by circumstances, he wore the same blue suit on air every day for an entire year, just to see if anyone noticed or cared.

No one did.

"But women," he said, and I'm quoting him now,
Women, they wear the wrong color and they get pulled up. They say the wrong thing and there's thousands of tweets written about them. I'm judged on how I do my job, basically. Women are quite often judged on what they're wearing or how their hair is.
And for demonstrating that fact so clearly and so cleverly, Karl Stefanovic is a hero.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/tv-anchor-same-suit-sexism_n_6170900.html

184.6 - New IPCC report even grimmer than earlier ones

New IPCC report even grimmer than earlier ones

Something I’m not going to spend time on this week but will get to very soon and wanted to mention now: The latest IPCC report came out last month and it sounds an increasingly-loud alarm to a world that still seems determined not to listen.

The growing risks of climate change are so profound, the scientists said, they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at their current pace.

Failure to reduce emissions could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.

And 2014 is looking very much like it will be the hottest year on record, beating out 2010 which beat out 2005 and so much for the “global warming has stopped” bull.

I will stop there because I do want to spend some significant time on this, which I promise to do very soon.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/11/02/un-climate-report-offers-stark-warnings-hope/20987374/
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/03/world/europe/global-warming-un-intergovernmental-panel-on-climate-change.html?_r=0
http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/30/tech/innovation/record-temperatures/index.html?hpt=hp_t2
http://www.climate-change-guide.com/hottest-years-on-record.html

184.5 - Update: So much for democracy, Texas style

Update: So much for democracy, Texas style

A couple of weeks ago, in running down some good news that came out of the November elections, I noted that the town of Denton, Texas, had voted by a wide margin to ban fracking within city limits.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a means of increasing production from oil and natural gas wells by pumping a mix of water, sludge, and one of several different cocktails of toxic chemicals into a well under such pressure that it literally fractures the surrounding rock, allowing more fossil fuel to be extracted from the fissures created.

The residents of Denton, one of the most heavily-fracked communities in Texas, complained about poor air quality, noise, and an increase in low-magnitude earthquakes associated with the process locally. So they voted to ban it.

But to show you - assuming such a show was needed - what happens when right-wingers who screech about "small government" and "local control" do when that conflicts with the desires of big money, just two days after the vote, Christi Craddick, chairwoman of the state commission that oversees oil and gas drilling said she would simply ignore the ban and go right on issuing fracking permits in Denton.

Revealingly, her reasoning was, quoting her, “It’s my job to give permits, not Denton’s. We’re going to continue permitting up there because that’s my job." Actually, Ms. Craddick, your job is to regulate - but I'm not surprised you think your job is to hand out permits like candy to "frack, baby, frack."

She also claimed the vote was the result of “misinformation” and that the oil and gas industry should have done more to communicate with locals. However, according to the Dallas Morning News, the fracking ban question was the most expensive political campaign in Denton’s history, and one in which major oil and gas companies spent $685,000 - remember, this is a municipal election ballot question - outspending environmentalists supporting the ban by close to 30-1.

Right-winger definition of what constitutes an illegitimate election among uninformed voters: one that they lose.

Sources cited in links:
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/11/1824-some-good-news-from-election.html
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/11/10/3590690/texas-fracking-ban-denton/

184.4 - Footnote: Invalid immunization fears

Footnote: Invalid immunization fears

As a quick footnote to that, I am aware that there are those in the US who declare that they will not have their children vaccinated on the claim that the vaccines are, or rather something contained within the vaccines is, connected to autism and there is some sort of vast conspiracy of silence within the US government, particularly the Centers for Disease Control to hide the fact. At least some among them say - I have had this argued directly to me - that there is no need to take that risk because so many other children get immunized that there is no chance of their child getting, in this case, measles.

Those people are wrong. They are wrong scientifically and they are wrong ethically and they are wrong practically.

Wrong scientifically because there is no reliable evidence that the substance in question - a mercury-containing compound called "thiomersal" internationally and "thimerosal" in the US - is connected to autism.

Wrong ethically because by their own argument they want everybody else to risk their children so their own children will be "safe."

And wrong practically because the net effect is  to increase the risk to their children of getting measles: After the live measles vaccine was introduced in the US in the early 1960s, the number of new cases plummeted from over 500,000 in 1962 to just 37 in 2004. But by the end of October this year, there were already over 600 cases, already making it the worst year here in 20 years.

And I can't help but wonder how many of those kids had parents who said "I won't get my child immunized because they'll never get measles."

Sources cited in links:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiomersal_controversy
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_Simpsonwood_CDC_conference
http://pediatrics.about.com/od/measles/a/measles-timeline.htm

184.3 - Not Good News: Cases of measles sharply up worldwide

Not Good News: Cases of measles sharply up worldwide

I came across this the other day, and it just hurt my heart. It comes under the heading of Not Good News.

In 2000, the World Health Organization embarked on a campaign to get children across the world immunized against measles, still a significant killer of children. The goal was to reduce deaths from measles by 95% by 2015.

By 2012, that goal looked in reach: The number of children who died yearly from measles had dropped from 583,000 to 122,000, a drop of about 81%.

But WHO now reports that in 2013 the number of measles deaths in children went up to nearly 146,000, raising doubts the goal of a 95% reduction will be met by next year.

The greater tragedy here, the real source of the pain, is that the measles vaccine is easily available and relatively affordable - about $1 per child in the developing world - but governments and private partners contributing to the immunization effort have slashed funding, with the result that vaccination programs have been delayed or even stopped in several countries, leaving tens of millions of children, particularly in India, Pakistan, and Nigeria, vulnerable to a disease that potentially can leave them brain damaged or blind even if they survive.

Understand: This is an international program through UNICEF, which means it's internationally-funded. It's not that nations such as India, Pakistan, and Nigeria have cut their funding for immunizations of their own children, it's that the world community has. And the people most affected, as is often the case, are the poor. Which is probably why in the eyes of too many governments, the lives of the children are literally not worth $1.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/eliminating-measles/en/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/14/measles-death-children_n_6159252.html

184.2 - Good News: More local governments recognize workers' rights

Good News: More local governments recognize workers' rights

On another front, more and more states and cities are picking up where the federal government has failed to act and are recognizing the need for greater protection and respect for the needs of workers, particularly low-wage workers. The bad news is that this is necessary at all, that we are more and more becoming a low-wage, part-time nation, but the good news here is that, again, more states and municipalities are recognizing their responsibility to do something in response.

On November 25, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, the country’s first-ever legislation aimed at improving life for retail employees.

Retail chains that have 11 or more locations across the country and employ 20 or more people in San Francisco will now have to provide their workers at least two weeks’ advance notice of their schedules. Failure to do so will mean having to give those workers additional “predictability pay.” Disrupted lives due to shifting schedules posted on short notice have become a major complaint among particularly (but not exclusively) part-time workers, some of who won't even know if they will work a shift until they show up that day.

The San Francisco measure will also require employers to improve the treatment of part-time employees, give current workers the opportunity to take on more hours before the company hires new people, pay "on-call" people whose shifts are canceled, and give part-time employees the same starting wage as those working full time in the same position and access to the same benefits.

And a week later, on December 2, the Chicago City Council voted 44-5 to pass fast-tracked legislation to raise the minimum wage for workers in the city from the current $8.25 an hour to $13 an hour by 2019, with the first hike, to $10 an hour, to come in 2015.

Part of the reason this is happening is that, in another bit of unfortunately-necessary but still Good News, low-wage workers are getting fed up themselves, fed up enough to ignore retaliation and the prospect of getting fired, and are taking to the streets.

For one example: Friday, November 30, marked the third consecutive year of protests and strikes against Walmart. The protests, under the banner of  "$15 and full time" - that is, a $15 an hour minimum wage and full-time work for anyone who wants it - were led by OUR Walmart, a union-backed worker group, alongside community and labor groups in different cities.

Thousands of Walmart employees and labor union members protested at 1,000 Walmart stores across the country. At least 11 workers and supporters were arrested for blocking traffic outside a Walmart in Chicago.

The actions come after a week in which workers walked off the job in 10 states, employees in Los Angeles staged a fast, and workers in D.C. orchestrated a sit-in where the associates wore masking tape over their mouths to protest of Walmart “silencing of employees who complain about working conditions."

Dan Schlademan of Making Change at Walmart, a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union which supports the campaign, said he expects the number of strikers to be in the hundreds by the end of the day. That number is small compared to Walmart's total work force, but do not forget that just a couple of years ago, it would have been unthinkable for it to happen at all.

Sources cited in links:
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/11/26/3597287/san-francisco-retail-bill-of-rights/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/02/chicago-minimum-wage_n_6255436.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/28/walmart-black-friday-protests_n_6237208.html
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/11/29/3597575/thousands-of-workers-protest-walmart-they-stole-our-thanksgiving/
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/11/26/3597311/walmart-fast/

184.1 - Good News: Another piece of the mosaic fits into place

Good News: Another piece of the mosaic fits into place

On Tuesday, November 25, federal district court Judge Kristine Baker made it a week to be thankful for among same-sex couples in Arkansas when she ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. She stayed the effect of the ruling pending appeal, which as I've noted several times is the usual course of things.

However, the Arkansas state Supreme Court is considering a different case which also challenges the ban. If that court rules against the ban and upholds marriage justice, the suit in federal court will become moot.

What's more, just hours later, federal district Judge Carlton Reeves issued a lengthy, fiery ruling striking down Mississippi's discrimination against same-sex couples who just want to get married. That ban, he declared, is not only unconstitutional, but also, quoting the ruling, “common sense tells us that the application of Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.”

I've remarked before that it often seems that every one of the pro-justice has some wording, some turn of phrase, worth noting. This, while rather longer than a phrase, is Reeves': He laid out seven questions, which were:
Can gay and lesbian citizens love?
Can gay and lesbian citizens have long-lasting and committed relationships?
Can gay and lesbian citizens love and care for children?
Can gay and lesbian citizens provide what is best for their children?
Can gay and lesbian citizens help make their children good and productive citizens?
Without the right to marry, are gay and lesbian citizens subjected to humiliation and indignity?
Without the right to marry, are gay and lesbian citizens subjected to state-sanctioned prejudice?
He then said the answer to each of those questions is “Yes.” Which, he wrote "leads the court to the inescapable conclusion that same-sex couples should be allowed to share in the benefits, and burdens, for better or for worse, of marriage."

Indeed.

By the way, I said a few weeks ago in a slightly-different context that the real bigots on this, the real dead-enders, won't give up but that others among their number will at some point give it up as a lost cause and focus their bigotry somewhere else. There are signs that precisely that is happening:

On November 19, the infamously anti-gay, anti-lesbian, anti-LGBT-rights, and bizarrely-misnamed National Organization for Marriage released its 2013 tax filings. They showed a 50% drop in income from the year before, with just two donors accounting for more than half of what the group did raise. It's so-called "Education Fund" fared even worse, showing a 70% drop from 2012. The group ended the year more than $2.5 million in debt. The investors in hate are moving on to another campaign.

Finally on this, a quick sidebar: On November 28, Finland became the 18th nation to allow same-sex couples to marry nationwide.

Sources cited in links:
http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/11/25/3597266/arkansas-federal-marriage-decision/
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/05/1582-good-news-same-sex-marriage-comes.html
http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/11/25/3597274/mississippi-marriage-decision/
http://www.scribd.com/doc/248258513/3-14-cv-00818-30-Mississippi-Preliminary-Injunction
http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/11/19/the_national_organization_for_marriage_has_collapsed_into_debt.html
http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/12/01/3597710/finland-marriage-equality/
http://www.freedomtomarry.org/landscape/entry/c/international

Left Side of the Aisle #184




Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of December 4-10, 2104

This week:

Good News: Another piece of the mosaic fits into place
http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/11/25/3597266/arkansas-federal-marriage-decision/
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/05/1582-good-news-same-sex-marriage-comes.html
http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/11/25/3597274/mississippi-marriage-decision/
http://www.scribd.com/doc/248258513/3-14-cv-00818-30-Mississippi-Preliminary-Injunction
http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/11/19/the_national_organization_for_marriage_has_collapsed_into_debt.html
http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/12/01/3597710/finland-marriage-equality/
http://www.freedomtomarry.org/landscape/entry/c/international

Good News: More local governments recognize workers' rights
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/11/26/3597287/san-francisco-retail-bill-of-rights/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/02/chicago-minimum-wage_n_6255436.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/28/walmart-black-friday-protests_n_6237208.html
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/11/29/3597575/thousands-of-workers-protest-walmart-they-stole-our-thanksgiving/
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/11/26/3597311/walmart-fast/

Not Good News: Cases of measles sharply up worldwide
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/eliminating-measles/en/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/14/measles-death-children_n_6159252.html

Footnote: Invalid immunization fears
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiomersal_controversy
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_Simpsonwood_CDC_conference
http://pediatrics.about.com/od/measles/a/measles-timeline.htm

Update: So much for democracy, Texas style
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/11/1824-some-good-news-from-election.html
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/11/10/3590690/texas-fracking-ban-denton/

New IPCC report even grimmer than earlier ones
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/11/02/un-climate-report-offers-stark-warnings-hope/20987374/
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/03/world/europe/global-warming-un-intergovernmental-panel-on-climate-change.html?_r=0
http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/30/tech/innovation/record-temperatures/index.html?hpt=hp_t2
http://www.climate-change-guide.com/hottest-years-on-record.html

Hero Award: Australian newscaster Karl Stefanovic
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/tv-anchor-same-suit-sexism_n_6170900.html?ir=Media

Clown Award: 125 members of the Seattle PD
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/10/22/3582939/seattle-cops-sued-claiming-they-have-a-constitutional-right-to-use-excessive-force/
https://tribkcpq.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/suit.pd
http://www.coha.org/tonton-macoutes/

Outrage of the Week: No indictment in Ferguson
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/25/us/ferguson-darren-wilson-shooting-michael-brown-grand-jury.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/24/bob-mcculloch-ferguson_n_6215986.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/00_Agent
http://izquotes.com/author/sol-wachtler
http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/ferguson-michael-brown-indictment-darren-wilson/
http://theroottv.theroot.com/video/Legal-Experts-Explain-Why-The-F
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/11/25/3596884/ferguson-legal-experts/

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Excuse me for a moment....

There will be no Left Side of the Aisle this week. I am taking the week off, dammit.

There may be a post or two over that time, but that depends on events and my mood.

I'll see you again next week, for sure.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Peace.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ferguson

Okay, so it happened. Just as we knew it would - we kept hoping it wouldn't, but we knew it would. Which is why even though the taste is so bitter, the disappointment so sharp, there is no sense of surprise. Just the aching hurt of seeing it happen yet again.

Another black man shot to death by another white cop. Another white cop walks.

It has long since become depressingly, disgustingly, predictable.

"No probable cause." Not even for involuntary manslaughter. "No probable cause."

Darren Wilson did nothing wrong when he shot down Michael Brown, we're told. Nothing at all. According to St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, he was just defending himself. He "feared for his life," so shooting Brown down and then leaving his body lying in the street for four hours, never even bothering to call paramedics, that was just, well, it was ... okay. Reasonable. Appropriate. He was just defending himself.

Defending himself against what? When after the initial scuffle at Wilson's patrol car, after Brown broke away and ran away, Wilson chased after him, shooting - shooting, that is, at the back of a man Wilson had good cause to think was unarmed. Trying, bluntly to "apply deadly force" against an unarmed man who was running away from him.

Did Darren Wilson "fear for his life" at that moment?

When Michael Brown turned to face him, did it ever cross Wilson's mind that Brown was the one who had good cause to "fear for his life?" He was, after all, the one someone else was trying to shoot in the back.

Unimportant. Irrelevant. Because Darren Wilson is a cop. And Michael Brown, well, he was ... unimportant. Irrelevant. Just another black guy who got aggressive - or, often enough, just mouthy - with a white cop. And we all know - or are supposed to know and to accept - that in that case white cops can't be held responsible for what happens after that. Because the cop "followed procedure" or "acted within guidelines," procedures and guidelines that should result in cops' badge numbers starting with double-0, at least when dealing with young black men. Because there wasn't, there almost never is, "probable cause."

The legal purpose of grand juries is supposed to be a check on arbitrary prosecutions, a way of making prosecutors show they have enough evidence to proceed to trial. For that reason, they usually only hear the prosecution case: If that's not good enough for trial, a defense case is unnecessary. But in this case, the prosecutor by his own account introduced "everything" - which means he also included any exculpatory evidence or testimony they may have had, material that would normally be presented by the defense at trial, not by the prosecution.

As much as grand juries are in legal fantasy independent panels, they are in reality creatures of the prosecution. A prosecutor who really wants an indictment can get one. And a prosecutor who really does not want an indictment and who has gone to a grand jury only because of political pressure or social protest, can insure there isn't one.

I say here for the record that I will go to my grave convinced that prosecutor Robert McCulloch wanted Darren Wilson to get off scot-free. And justice can go fuck itself.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

183.4 - The source-based story of the "First Thanksgiving"

The source-based story of the "First Thanksgiving"

Okay, I've done this a couple of times, I think, so it's becoming a tradition, at least as much of a tradition as anything can be around here.

Thanksgiving is on its way, so gather 'round, kiddies, I'm going to tell you the real story, the based-on-actual-historical-sources story, of the first thanksgiving. By which, of course, I mean the event that occurred in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621 which is the basis of our now-traditional thanksgiving holiday.

One of the reasons I do this every year is that it is truly amazing just how much misinformation, mythology, and general muddle-headedness there is out there on this topic and I like to try to bring some hard historical reality to the discussion.

So to start our Thanksgiving tale, consider this:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And though it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
That comes from a letter dated December 11, 1621. It was written to a "loving and old friend" in England by Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger and a leader in the early years of the colony. It was contained in a book published in England in 1622 under the rather ponderous title of A Relation or Journal of the beginning and proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimoth in New England, by certain English Adventurers both Merchants and others.

The book is popularly known today by the less cumbersome name of Mourt's Relation and consists of eyewitness accounts of various events during the first year of the settlement.

Here's why that letter is important here: It is the only contemporaneous account of what we know as the "First Thanksgiving" which is known to exist.

The only other even near-contemporaneous account comes from William Bradford, long-time governor of the settlement, who wrote about it in his journal at least 10 to 12 years later. Even there he just sort of brushes by it, endorsing Winslow by referring to "not feigned but true reports."
They now began to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses against the winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took in good store, of which every family had its portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so large of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.
That's it. That's all of it. That's what the entire "First Thanksgiving" story is built on. Everything else is speculation, interpretation, and guesswork, some of it informed, all too much of it not.

Some things we can tell from the accounts: For one thing, based on other references in those same sources, we know that the event took place after September 18 and before November 9. Mostly likely, it was in late September or the beginning of October, as that would have been shortly after harvest.

In considering the event, the first thing to realize is that this was not a "thanksgiving." In the period, a thanksgiving was a religious occasion, a day set aside for prayer to give thanks to God for some special and unexpected blessing.

The first public day of thanksgiving in the town actually came in the summer of 1623: A crop-threatening drought had lead to a day of "humiliation," a day of fasting and prayer to beg forgiveness for whatever they had done to cause God to bring this on them. Literally immediately after, there came a soaking rain which saved the crops and so a day of thanksgiving seemed appropriate.

So no, this was not a thanksgiving. Such days would occur occasionally as the cause arose; to plan for one in advance, much less to plan for one every year as we do now, would be regarded as a gross presumption on God's will and intentions.

What this was instead was a very traditional, very secular, English harvest feast, a celebration of a good harvest to which it was customary to invite those who had been helpful to you over the course of the year (which is very likely why the natives, who had indeed been helpful, were there). True, the settlers didn't have a good harvest - Bradford describes it as "small" - but they had a harvest. That surely raised everyone's spirits: It indicated they were going to make it. Reason enough for a celebration, especially considering what they had been through so far.

I want to make a quick aside to explain a rather subtle point more clearly: Europeans of the 17th century - especially the more religiously-conservative sorts, such as those that lead the Plimoth (as it was often spelled at the time) settlement - did not make the sort of clear distinctions between what is "religious" and what is "secular" that we do today. The sense of, a feeling of an awareness of, the "hand of God" or the "will of God" was much more central to their lives than it is to the vast majority of us now.

What that means here is that the 1621 harvest feast would surely have included prayers of thanks to God and perhaps a sermon from their religious leader, Elder William Brewster, as significant features of the event, just as prayer would have been a frequent feature of their everyday lives, from meals to musket drills to mucking about in their fields, tending the crops. However, they would not have regarded this as "a day of thanksgiving" as they understood the term: While the prayers would have been significant features of the event, they would not have been the central features; not the purpose, not the point, not the driver behind it. Celebration was, feasting was.

Put another way, had we been able to witness the 1621 feast, to our modern eyes there would very likely have been more than enough praying, giving thanks, and singing of psalms and hymns to make it look like a religious or at least religiously-inspired event, but to a person of the 17th century it would have looked about as secular as such a thing got.

Anyway, back to our story. As for the eternal question of what they ate, we can confident they had fowl such as duck or goose (as the governor "sent four men on fowling" in preparation) and yes, quite possibly turkey ("of which they took many," Bradford said) They very likely also had fish, specifically cod and bass, and quite possibly deer.

Another aside: I say "quite possibly" to raise the issue of using historical sources without running too far ahead of them, a sin of which too many of the revisionist accounts are guilty: Even though Winslow says the natives "went out and killed five deer, which they ... bestowed on our governor ... and others" we can't tell if those deer were brought soon enough to be butchered, dressed, and presented as part of the feast or if they were brought afterward as a sort of thank you, a reciprocal gift in return for having been "feasted" for three days. Bradford's mention of venison doesn't resolve things because in the period, "venison" meant "hunted meat," not just deer. So while they quite probably had deer, either from the natives or their own hunting or both, we can't say it definitively.

Getting back to the menu, lobster and other shellfish is another real possibility; elsewhere in the letter that I quoted Winslow mentions that they are abundant in the area - as are eels, of which they could take "a hogshead in a night." If you think "eels, eew," know that an English person of the period would have responded "They're just another sort of fish." (A hogshead is a cask holding about 63 gallons of liquid. Yeah, Winslow was likely exaggerating; he was like that.)

Beyond that, we can reasonably argue for some others foods such as a sort of pie made from squash from their gardens, sweetened with dried fruit which they would have brought with them from England, salad from other stuff from their gardens, and a sort of coarse corn bread. Water would have been the major and perhaps the only beverage: Their supply of barley would be limited (Winslow says the "English grains," which would mean such as wheat, rye, and oats as well as barley, "grew indifferent good") and there is no mention of hops. No hops, no beer; no much barley, not much ale. Even if they did have some barley, there may well would not have been enough time for brewing since harvest. So they might have had a little ale or even maybe a little wine brought from England and reserved for a special occasion, but again is was likely mostly water.

So that is pretty much it, pretty much everything we know or can reasonably assume about the event. Not much to build a whole mythology on, is it?

Even so, it drove the pap we got fed as children, marked by images of picnic tables laden with turkey, mashed potatoes, and apple pies surrounded by natives dressed like they just came from the great plains and smiling "Pilgrims" dressed in the fashions of the 1690s.

And that same sparseness of detail - and one of the reasons I go through this every year - is probably a good part of the reason the event provides so much latitude to those who want to replace the childhood (and childish) image of noble settlers and savage natives with one of noble natives and savage settlers, who every year, regular as clockwork, treat us to the historical revisionism that has become as traditional as turkey and cranberry sauce. In place of the happy talk mythologies of peace, love, and harmony we were spoon-fed as children we find people snarling out dark tales of drunken, murderous, bloodthirsty settlers facing off with natives "crashing the party" and doing it in such numbers because Massasoit feared he'd be kidnapped or killed otherwise. It is a vision that, as much as the earlier one, is an attempt to overwrite history with ideology. It is, in other words, pure bunk.

In point of historical fact, relations between Plymouth and the neighboring natives were reasonably good for several decades. There were stresses and strains and disruptions, yes, but for the most part they managed to keep intact the peace agreement-mutual defense pact they made in the spring of 1621.

Things gradually got worse and I won't go into all the reasons why but the biggest two were population pressure and disputes over land that were rooted in vast cultural differences between the natives and the English. The native culture had no concept of land ownership. Not just they didn't own the land or that everyone owned the land, or the Great Spirit owned the land; no, the idea of land as a possession just didn't exist. To own something, for the natives, meant you could pick it up and carry it away with you. How could you own something if you have to leave it behind anytime you go anywhere? Which makes real sense, especially for a semi-nomadic people who live in one area for part of the year and another area the rest of the year. But for the settlers, for any European, land ownership was an everyday concept. That cultural chasm was a source of repeated conflict.

The peace finally, irrevocably, completely broke down - but that was in 1675, more than 50 years after the "First Thanksgiving." The point here is that at that time, in the fall of 1621, native-settler relations were good.

In fact, the very next sentences of the Winslow letter I quoted above are these:
We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and they come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them.
Winslow also says that all the other native leaders in the vicinity have made peace with Plymouth on the same terms as Massasoit, as a result of which, he asserts, "there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly." He goes on to say that:
We for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, just.
(Just to be certain you know, "trusty" means trustworthy, not trusting, and "quick of apprehension" does not mean quick to be apprehensive. It means quick to understand, quick to grasp the meaning of something.)

That does not sound either like bloodthirsty settlers eager to kill natives or like natives who feared contact with those same settlers or felt they had to display mass force to avoid being kidnapped or killed. If you're still not convinced, consider that in June 1621, three or four months earlier, the town felt it necessary to send a message to Massasoit requesting that he restrain his people from coming to the settlement in such numbers. This is from Mourt's Relation, this is the message they sent to Massasoit.
But whereas his people came very often, and very many together unto us, bringing for the most part their wives and children with them, they were welcome; yet we being but strangers as yet at Patuxet, alias New Plymouth, and not knowing how our corn might prosper, we could no longer give them such entertainment as we had done, and as we desired still to do.
That's how "afraid" the natives were of the settlers.

Assigning the role of angel or demon to either side is trash: Neither of these peoples were either. Neither were saints, neither were devils.

So I reject the revisionist history, indeed I resent the revisionist history. I resent it first because it’s lousy history. It's based on ideology, not information; it looks to satisfy demands of politics, not of scholarship, and it is every bit as full of false tales and mythology as the nonsense and pap that we got fed as schoolchildren.

Plymouth in the fall of 1621 genuinely was a scene of peaceful and friendly relations, of good feeling, between English settlers and their nearest native neighbors. The "First Thanksgiving" was a moment of celebration when everyone on both sides, even if they were still wary each of the other, believed that yes, this was going to work out. That wasn’t going to happen; it was a false hope, even a foolish hope. It was brief enough moment, lasting by even a generous understanding no more than a few decades, and a rare enough moment in our nation's history of cruelty toward and genocide of the native peoples of this continent such that while "the First Thanksgiving" shouldn't be a source of happily-ever-after "why can't we all just get along" fairy stories, neither is there any need to co-opt it into the service of ideology-driven revisionsim.

Because that moment of hope did exist. And frankly, I resent the attempts to strip away that one moment of hope in pursuit of a modern political agenda.

I remember a friend of mine some years ago talking about “the urge to find angelic forces in the world,” that is, the seeming need many of us have to fix on some group, some movement, some something that we can convince ourselves is utterly pure in its motives and behavior. In our attempts to find some better balance in our understanding of what was done to the natives of North America, the cruelties inflicted on them, the racism and bigotry which targeted them, too many of us in considering the “Pilgrims” of Plymouth have chosen to simply swap one mythology for a perhaps more satisfying but equally false one.

Balance, it seems, is still a long way off.

So anyway, I hope you enjoy your Turkey Day, I hope you have time to spend with your family or friends or better yet both and I hope you can understand why I celebrate the day as an expression less of thankfulness for the past (or even the present) than as an expression of hope for the future. That hope, too, may prove as foolish as that of 1621, indeed I often think it is - but the blunt fact is, hope is also the one absolute, indispensable requirement for any effort to make that future a better one.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.histarch.illinois.edu/plymouth/mourt6.html
http://static.squarespace.com/static/50a02efce4b046b42952af27/t/50a8701fe4b08d1f2ced2ff4/1353216031950/MourtsRelation.pdf
http://www.mith.umd.edu/eada/html/display.php?docs=bradford_history.xml
 
// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / jeffcouturier.com (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src="https://sites.google.com/site/occupybanners/home/isupportoccupy-right-blue.png"}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src="https://sites.google.com/site/occupybanners/home/isupportoccupy-right-red.png"}} document.write('');