Nel's New Day

December 2, 2014

Ferguson: White Entitlement Defeats Justice, Part II

People all over the United States are still protesting the grand jury’s lack of indictment against Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown almost four months ago. St. Louis DA Robert McCulloch firmly believed that Wilson is innocent and manipulated the evidence to present that case. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) will not appoint a new prosecutor, but, according to state law, Maura McShane, presiding judge of the 21st Circuit, can appoint a special prosecutor. There is a precedent for this action:  in State v. Copeland (1996), a Missouri court replaced the prosecutor because the judge “sensed that [the prosecutor’s] sympathies for [the defendant] may have prevented him from being an effective advocate for the state.”

There are many reasons that there should be an indictment to send Brown’s killing to a trial.

After the shooting, Wilson removed evidence by washing the blood of his body before there was any investigation. His actions allowed the spread of rumors about the extent of his injuries. Wilson’s gun was not tested for fingerprints, allowing Wilson to claim that Brown had grabbed the gun. In fact, Wilson didn’t immediately turn over his weapon to investigators. He left it in his holsters, took it back to the station, and put it in an evidence bag himself. The shooter was the last person with chain-of-custody control of the murder weapon.

The first officer who interviewed Wilson took no notes; he gave testimony over a month later from memory. The interview came after Wilson was taken to the hospital. “I didn’t take notes because at that point in time I had multiple things going through my head besides what Darren was telling me,” the officer stated. Wilson changed his story between the first interview and later testimony. Originally, he said he didn’t know that Brown may have been a suspect in a theft from the local liquor store. In the original interview, he said he didn’t know that Brown gave to Dorian Johnson but later reported that he saw the cigarillos, leading him to believe that Brown was the thief.

McCulloch demonstrated a possible conflict of interest. As president of The Backstoppers, Inc., he was involved in fundraising for Wilson with a T-shirt drive featuring a picture of Missouri with the statement “I SUPPORT OFFICER D. WILSON” to raise money for the Darren Wilson Defense Fund.

The lack of indictment, although not surprising, was highly unlikely. Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich,” a statement backed up by data. Of the 162,000 federal cases prosecuted in 2010, grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them. Wilson’s case was in state, not federal, court, but a lack of indictment is extremely rare in those courts as well. “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”

The exception to these statistics is police shootings. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County (TX) grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries returned on indictment out of 81 reviewed shootings between 2008 and 2012.

McCulloch set up the grand jury for no indictment when he presented “all evidence.” The usual procedure is to present only evidence necessary to establish probable cause. McCulloch also allowed Wilson to testify for hours in defense of his actions. The DA admitted his team acted in Wilson’s defense when he said that prosecutors “challenged” and “confronted” witnesses to discredit their accounts.

At the very least, Wilson should have been indicted for negligence, based on documentation. McCulloch, however, had given no instructions to the jury. He just presented the case like any defense attorney would, adding a tremendous amount of non-related material.

Not considered by the grand jury was whether Wilson could have avoided killing Brown.  The “de-escalation” training in other parts of the country has reduced the unnecessary use of force and improved safety for both officers and civilians. De-escalation means that multiple officers respond because of just one person, calmly introducing oneself, listening, and using body-worn cameras that helps both officers and civilians to behave better. Instead of waiting for backup, Wilson got out of his car and pursued the Brown after stopping him for jaywalking. As a police officer, Wilson had a nightstick, mace, gun, and self-defense training. The question is why he would leave his car without backup and chase a man who terrified him.

The social media is not the only source of discontent in the way that McCulloch handled the case. The National Bar Association has released a statement pointing out the flaws in how the AG handled the case. It is pushing for the Department of Justice to continue its own investigation.

Past events have shown police that they can harass and bully people—especially blacks—with no retribution. The lack of indictment in the Ferguson case reassures police that they can continue to do so while the false information distributed to the public makes people comfortable with this, and future, killings.

Ben Carson, the first person to become a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, blames the women’s liberation movement for Brown’s killing. According to Carson, women are incapable of teaching their children to respect authority. The result is a high number of black youth killed by police or incarcerated. He believes that Michael Brown could still be alive if we women had not fought for our rights. Warning: Caron is a neurosurgeon. Anyone seeing him professionally should be warned to get a second opinion. There certainly should be a second opinion on the grand jury that failed to indict Darren Wilson.

Places such as Ferguson and St. Louis County have the opportunity to change their strategies after the killing of Michael Brown, and an 11-year-old explained how this can be done. Eleven days after Brown was killed while protesters faced tear gas and arrests, Marquis Govan spoke to the St. Louis County Council. He said:

“The people of Ferguson, I believe, don’t need tear gas thrown at them. I believe they need jobs. I believe the people of Ferguson, they don’t need to be hit with batons. What they need is people to be investing in their businesses. You’re paying attention to the looting and things like that, when the real issues aren’t being solved. There’s a reason why those people are out there.”

Marquis was in foster care before his great-grandmother took custody of him when he was two years old. She took him with her when she went to vote, and he said he began to think about politics when he was five. Marquis is one of those people who can make a difference—if he lives long enough.

marquisOn the same day that Marquis spoke to the council, Eugene Robinson wrote, “Anyone who thinks race is not a factor in these fatal encounters should have to cite examples of unarmed young white men being killed by trigger-happy police or self-appointed vigilantes.”

People want to think that we live in a “post-racial society” because those who attempted to quiet the Ferguson protests- the Missouri highway patrol commander, the U.S. attorney general, and the president—are black.  Yet millions of blacks are blocked from achieving this high level through failed schools, lack of high-paying blue-collar jobs, and racial bias in arrests and imprisonment. Brown had managed to graduate from high school with no police record and head to technical college. A police officer stopped him for jaywalking and then ran after him and killed him. That’s what happens to many young black men in the United States. Brown is dead, and Wilson was not punished. How can anyone be surprised that the end result is rage?

As Gary Younge wrote, “In Ferguson the violence of the state created the violence of the street.”

December 1, 2014

Ferguson: White Entitlement Defeats Justice, Part I

Filed under: Racism — trp2011 @ 8:15 PM
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One week ago, St. Louis DA Robert McCulloch gave a rambling, defensive press conference announcing that the grand jury had not indicted Darren Wilson, 28, for killing Michael Brown. Since then, the killer, a police officer, has resigned from the Ferguson force, but his action does not stop the news that about the inconsistencies, bad police procedures, and cover-ups that the 4,799 pages of grand jury testimony reveal.

Initially Assistant District Attorney Kathy Alizadeh told the jury to base their decisions on a law that was ruled unconstitutional almost 30 years ago. She told the jury that Wilson had the legal right to shoot and kill Brown as soon as Brown ran away from the police officer, that Wilson could legally do this even if he didn’t feel threatened. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional any law stating that an officer is “justified in the use of such physical force as he or she reasonably believes is immediately necessary to effect the arrest or to prevent the escape from custody.” Alizadeh failed to make any correction to these instructions for two months and then was extremely vague, saying only that “the statute in the state of Missouri does not comply with the case law.” When a juror asked if “federal court overrides Missouri statutes,” she said, “Just don’t worry about that.” Assistant prosecutor Sheila Whirley added, “We don’t want to get into a law class.” There was no explanation of what was incorrect about the unconstitutional law that she had given them. This mistake greatly contributed to Wilson’s exoneration.

The case in front of the grand jury was not about the dead person, Michael Brown. Yet on the first day of testimony, McCulloch referenced only Michael Brown—four times—while making no mention of Darren Wilson, the man who killed Brown. The first mention of Wilson came from a witness, on-scene medical examiner Sheila Whirley. The prosecutor spent time discussing Brown’s tattoos, clothing, etc., anything that would present the victim as a social reject, but avoid any mention of homicide. The questioning appeared to be focusing on the indictment of Michael Brown.

According to Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1992 Supreme Court case of United States v. Williams, “the suspect under investigation by the grand jury [has not] ever been thought to have a right to testify.” Yet McCulloch allowed Wilson to testify for hours before the grand jury and presented them with every piece of exculpatory evidence available. McCulloch erroneously told the grand jury that an indictment required them to “find probable cause” that Wilson “did not act in lawful self-defense” and that he “did not use lawful force in making an arrest.” Because several eyewitness accounts indicated that Wilson was not acting in self-defense when he killed Brown, McCulloch should have presented this evidence, likely returning an indictment in days rather than a lack of one in months.

Wilson said that Brown looked “like a demon” and felt like a “5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” Both men are the same height although Brown is heavier than the police officer. Wilson’s testimony described himself as being almost pleasant when he asked the two young men to move to the sidewalk. He also claimed that he suspected Brown had stolen the cigarillos. After Wilson fired two shots, Brown ran away before Wilson pursued him and shot him in the head when he was 8 to 10 feet away. Evidence indicates that Brown was actually about 148 feet from Wilson when the last shots were fired.

Wilson testified that Brown handed cigars to his friend Dorian Johnson at the same time Brown was allegedly hitting Wilson in the face with the same hand. “When I start looking at Brown, first thing I notice is in his right hand, his hand is full of cigarillos,” Wilson said. Asked later which hand Brown used to hit him, Wilson said the right hand.

Johnson said that Wilson grabbed Brown by the neck through his car window although Wilson said that he grabbed his arm. Brown reportedly struck Wilson before he unholstered his gun. Wilson’s face didn’t show the wounds that such a confrontation would cause. He never had damage to his “orbital eye socket”—just a bruise and a slightly reddened area. Even Wilson admitted that Brown had his hands in the air when he came back toward Wilson.

Wilson said he fired his gun in self-defense because Brown assaulted him through an open window, yet police officers reported that the front driver’s side window was shattered outward and blood was on the outside of the vehicle. In addition, Wilson claimed that he fired two rounds from inside the car, but one of the empty shells was outside.

The released documentation from the grand jury contains no copy of Wilson’s police record about the event although the police officer gave three different narratives about what happened.

The prosecution told witnesses that they could not compel them to testify. The power of the subpoena actually gives the prosecution this power. McCulloch introduced the officer defendant as a witness “against” the officer in a violation of both the U.S. and the Missouri State Constitution, the right of due process, and both U.S. and Missouri codes.

In his press conference, Robert McCulloch said that the grand jury disregarded testimony from witnesses that didn’t match what he perceived as the facts of the case. The question is which testimony. The PBS Newshour analyzed over 500 pages of transcripts and created a chart of responses. Over half the witnesses said that Brown had his hands raised when Wilson shot him. Only five people said that Brown reached for his waist. Over half said that Brown was running away when Wilson shot him, compared to the 20 percent who disagreed with this statement. Ordinarily such diverse testimony would send a case to trial where it could be examined.

One of the people who said that Brown didn’t have his hands up also posted this on his white supremacist blog:

“Well I’m gonna take my random drive to Florissant. Need to understand the Black race better so I stop calling Blacks Niggers and Start calling them People.”

During his announcement about the results of the grand jury, McCulloch cited the reason for Wilson’s encounter as theft of cigarillos. Both the police chief and the caller dispatch disagreed with McCulloch’s claim. According to the attorney for the store where Brown allegedly stole the cigarillos, neither the owner of the store nor its employees called police to report any shoplifting. The police did not see any video of the action until after Brown was killed.

The conservative media had dredged up photos of other people badly injured and in the hospital, purporting these men to be Darren Wilson. According to the released documentation, these photos of Darren Wilson were taken at the hospital following the shooting and show no injuries.

darren wilson

Three witnesses who testified before the grand jury were medical examiners. Only one of them came to the crime scene, and he didn’t arrive for at least three hours after the shooting while Brown lay in the street in the August heat. The ME took no photographs because the battery in his camera was dead, and he failed to take any measurements. He said he didn’t need to because “it was self-explanatory what happened. Somebody shot somebody.” He also failed to have any equipment to make any measurements.

For 108 days, the Ferguson police maintained that Brown died just 35 feet from Wilson’s SUV. Only after the announcement of the grand jury findings did McCulloch say that it was 150 feet from the SUV. Wilson got out of his car and pursued the man who he claims was a terrifying “demon.”

Correction: The above reflects that Wilson’s testimony is constitutional but highly unusual. The defendant lacks the constitutional right to testify or have exculpatory evidence presented to the grand jury.

Tomorrow: Part II of “Ferguson:  White Entitlement Defeats Justice

November 24, 2014

No Indictment for Michael Brown’s Killer

Geraldo Rivera, pretend journalist on the Fox network, usually feeds the racist watchers by denigrating minorities. His position on the killing of Trayvon Martin is that it was his fault for being “dressed like a thug,” wearing a hoodie. About the arrests of Democrats such as Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon and California State Senator Leeland Yee, Rivera said:

“Usually, the politicians who are robbing on the Democratic side tend to be ethnic politicians, as in these cases…We are the antidote to that particular problem.”

When he failed to feed the racist watchers, however, they turned on him. His support for President Obama’s executive actions on immigration led to racist, violent messages on Rivera’s Facebook page.

Rivera said on the air:

 “Bravo Mr. President for having the courage or political will or for doing the hard cold political calculation finally to do the right thing for five million undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding immigrants.”

His angry viewers responded:

“Really why call yourself an American if you don’t recognize the constitution, go take Obama and live free in which ever country you would like. Other than ours!! Jeez!!” – A.g. Garrison

“go green and kill your self.”—Jerry Allen

“Don’t let the door hit you. You will be judged by the Almighty for being on the side of the lawless one. Thank God when Jesus comes if you and your cahoots have not repented you all will be kicked off planet earth for good, not just America.”—Marsha Gordon

Unhappy by the postings, Rivera wrote:

“Just checking some of your responses to my recent posts on the president’s immigration action. Most are spirited, but within the normal boundaries of decent discourse. Some, however, are hateful, ignorant and racist, even mentioning my family. That is something I cannot abide. I’m turning your posts over to Fox News and Facebook authorities because you little pieces of shit hiding in the shadows of your mother’s basement deserve no less.”

He shouldn’t hold his breath to see what Fox does. As for Facebook authorities, he’ll find out that there are none.

Rivera has discovered on a personal level the backlash from viewers who believe they are entitled to the hatred that Fox has promoted during the past few decades. This backlash is a minor blip when compared to the release of the grand jury findings of Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson (MO) on August 9, 2014.

Tonight, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch held a press conference to announce what most people had already assumed, that there would be no indictment of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson who killed the teenager last August. With a self-righteous smirk, he blamed the media, the Internet, and “the 24-hour news cycle” for the protests in the town after Brown lay dead in the street for over four hours before justifying the lack of indictment. Some of his statements were highly specific; others were oddly vague, for example when he referred to Wilson firing “several shots.”

Part of his speech focused on the hard work of the grand jury as they “gave up their lives” while deliberating. Sounding like a defense attorney, he indicated that Wilson knew Michael Brown had stolen cigars from a convenience store before the shooting, but Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson stated that Wilson was not aware that Brown was involved in any alleged robbery. The only charge against Brown every publicized was that he was in the middle of the street—apparently against the law in Ferguson. The question that this discrepancy raises is how many others exist.

Even the timing of the press conference was peculiar. McCulloch waited all day until 9:00 in the evening to announce the grand jury’s findings.

There was no question of the grand jury’s outcome from McCulloch’s first statement, and the press conference was a travesty—as CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin described it, “an extended whine” and “entirely inappropriate and embarrassing.”

There will be much said about McCulloch, the lack of an indictment, and the deaths that are sure to result from the protests occurring all over the country. For tonight, however, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary New York, best addresses today’s tragedy on November 24, 2014—51 years and two days after the killing of President John F. Kennedy:

“It was with sadness and growing anger that many in our community at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York took in today’s news out of Missouri. While we cannot claim to know all that led to the decision, we are deeply concerned about all it implies about our nation and the violence that lives with us.

“The state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against young men of color in this country is abominable. It is cruel and sadistic, and undergirding it is the scourge of white racism with the myriad privileges and fears attached to whiteness.

“The brutality of racism and the harms it inflicts on black and brown bodies directly contradicts every tenant of our Christian faith — indeed, the tenets of all the world’s major religions. Until it is addressed directly and with sustained commitment by all of us, we will repeatedly fail to be the country we dream of being.

“We must not turn back from facing this harsh truth.

“As John F. Kennedy cautioned years ago, ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ We are committed to peaceful change, and we confess that our democracy is so profoundly broken that nothing short of a people’s movement for deep, systemic change can fix it.

“We are hopeful that out of our anger will continue to spring forth activism rooted in a faith bigger than any one community. We remain firm in our belief in a God that gives life and seeks goodness in all things. Using the fierce, biblical model of love and non-violence claimed by our forbearers, we stand evermore committed to working together for real change.

“That change must start today, growing out of our profound sadness, disappointment, and anger at what has occurred — not only in Ferguson but in far too many of our communities — and flowering in the righteous will to overcome the challenges we face to build the nation we believe in.”

We can only hope that memories of this disaster will lead to positive change instead of fading away like the other horrific events of the past. Tomorrow, however, Rivera can go back to blaming another black teenager for being killed.

September 6, 2014

Good News for the Past Week

The Israelis didn’t kill any Palestinian children or other civilians last week, the U.S. Congress wasn’t in town to start World War III, and  the Department of Justice plans to investigate the police force at Fersugon (MO).  That’s a few of the good things that happened last week. Locally, the best news is that the conservative Freedom Partners (aka Koch brothers) pulled over $1 million of television ad buys in October for GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby. Ads starting last month continue through the end of this month, but a Rasmussen poll showing incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley ahead by 13 points may have discouraged more than the $1.6 million expenditure for Wehby.

On the national level, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will revisit Halbig v. Burwell that would have taken insurance from almost 10 million people in the nation. The argument was whether some wording in the Affordable Care Act meant that only the 14 state-run exchanges could provide subsidies for low-income people seeking insurance. If the earlier decision had held, ACA might be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court because of differing circuit court rulings. The en banc (entire court) order vacates the earlier three-judge decision, infuriating conservatives because the court is “packed” with Democratic nominees. The “packed” conservative SCOTUS never seems to bother conservatives. Arguments are scheduled for December 17.

The ACA has gotten so popular that at least one Democrat, Arkansas’ Sen. Mark Pryor, is boasting about it in a tough re-election fight. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS weak response is that good benefits don’t matter if they’re part of “Obamacare.” Pryor’s opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, showed his desperation by accusing Pryor of voting for Medicare “cuts” through the ACA, a common conservative lie. As Pryor states in his TV ad: “My opponent knows I did not cut Medicare benefits. I cut waste and protected benefits.

At the same time, more GOP-run states are accepting federal Medicaid funding through ACA, bringing the total number of states to 27, ten of them with GOP governors.  Pennsylvania outright accepted the funding last week, Tennessee plans to do so, and other states—Indiana, Missouri, Utah, and Wyoming—are considering the same step.

DB_medicaid_map_lg In another fit of desperation, a state representative from Utah, who is a doctor when not debating in legislature, has a unique argument against health care. “Sometimes access actually can mean harm,” said Utah Rep. Mike Kennedy. “I’ve heard from National Institutes of Health and otherwise that we’re killing up to a million, a million and a half people every year in our hospitals. And it’s access to hospitals that’s killing those people.”

Even more upsetting to conservatives, insurance costs are not rising as fast as in the past and in some places are actually going down. When Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield tried to raise premiums by 12.5 percent, the Connecticut insurance department made them lower the average premium to a 0.1 percent decrease. California, which has seen increases of up to 40 percent in the past, will have an average increase of 4.2 percent. Oregon saw a drop of 2.5 percent. If Halibig v. Burwell were allowed to stand, people using the federal exchange would have an increase of 322 percent (and that’s not a typo!).

A ruling from another circuit court, the 7th, brought marriage equality to Indiana and Wisconsin. That’s the third federal appeals court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage. The 10th Circuit struck down bans in Oklahoma and Utah, and the 4th Circuit ruled against bans in Virginia. The 6th Circuit, deciding on bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee heard arguments a month ago. In the 7th Circuit decision, Judge Richard A. Posner used a variety of sources, including 19th-century English political philosopher and social commentator John Stuart Mill, to respond to the states’ arguments that many people find same-sex relationships repulsive.  Posner wrote:

 “Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.”

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman, the 80-year-old Reagan appointee who’s been on the bench for over 30 years, might want to read Posner’s quote. In Louisiana, Feldman became the first in a string of over 20 federal judges to rule against equality on the basis that same-sex couples cannot procreate. One could ponder whether Louisiana has a law that fertility and desire to bear children are prerequisites to marriage. Feldman is one of those people who believe in human rights by popular vote.

In another decision in Louisiana, Federal Court judge Carl Barbier ruled that BP was “grossly negligent” leading up to the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With proper care, the company and its subsidiaries could have prevented the explosion and oil spill that killed 11 and spilled 4.9 million gallons of oil into the Gulf waters. BP is 67% negligent for the spill, and oil-service company Halliburton and rig owner Transocean are 30% negligent.

fire BP

According to the ruling, BP made decisions that were completely unsafe and “motivated by profit.” For example, BP drilled 100 feet deeper, just eleven days before the disaster, although the company’s geologists warned against it. The negative pressure reading on the morning of the explosion should have led to more safety tests. Instead, officials decided to continue working. The explosion occurred that evening.

Under the Clean Water Act, a corporation acting in a grossly negligent manner can be fined up to $4,300 per barrel spilled: the cost of the civil case could be as much as $18 billion. BP plans to appeal. Shares of BP in the United States dropped 5.9 percent at $44.89 and closed down almost 6 percent in London, the worst one-day slide in more than four years. BP has already agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and may face other bills from a Natural Resources Damage Assessment.

Louisiana’s five women’s clinics that perform abortions will stay open, thanks to a ruling from U.S. Federal Judge John deGravelles.  A new law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have patient admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles was to go into effect last Monday, but the judge ruled that doctors can continue to perform legal abortions if they are seeking these privileges. The judge will hold a hearing within a month to make a more permanent ruling.

Judge Lee Yeakel helped Texas women by striking down the state’s “brutally effective system of abortion regulation.” The overturned law required all women’s clinics to be outfitted as ambulatory surgical centers, costing each one between $1 million and $1.5 million. Yeakel, a George W. Bush appointee, tried to block the law mandating admitting privileges last fall but was overruled by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He did succeed in stopping the rule for admitting privileges in McAllen and El Paso.

Ohio’s cuts to early voting and the state’s elimination of same-day voter registration violate both the Voting Rights Act’s ban on racial discrimination in voting and the constitution’s Equal Protection clause, according to U.S. Federal Judge Peter Economus. An injunction barring the Ohio’s restrictions on voting go into effect before the November election, and the judge ordered the state’s Secretary of State Jon Husted to add a second Sunday of early voting.

not darren wilson This photo is NOT Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO) a month ago, despite Chicago firefighter Kevin O’Grady’s claim. For the record, the photo, which went viral, is of motocross rider Jim McNeil who died in a 2011 crash. The photo was taken in 2006 after a motor accident at a friend’s house. There is no indication that Wilson suffered injuries. In another bogus photo posted by Kansas City Police Department Officer Marc Catron, an image of Michael Brown pointing a gun at the camera and biting down on a wad of cash is actually of Joda Cain, a Washington County (OR) murder suspect.

Police Chief Tom Jackson has also been found to lie about his reason for releasing a videotape of Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store. Jackson had said that he did thie because of a Freedom of Information Act request. There were actually no requests, but requests have not led Jackson to release the incident report for Brown’s killing. There is also some evidence that the police omitted images of Brown paying for the cigars from the video.

The best news for Leon Brown and Henry McCollum is that DNA has exonerated them from charges for rape and murder. The two men, on North Carolina’s death row for over 30 years, have been released from prison. Ages 15 and 19 at the time of their arrest in 1983, the two mentally challenged men were told that they could go home if they confessed to the crimes. Now that they are 46 and 50, biological material collected at the crime scene has been connected to a known sex offender who lived just feet away from where the 11-year-old girl was found. Since their arrest, the police force has also hidden boxes of crucial evidence and not disclosed it to either the defense team or the prosecuting attorney.

Twenty years ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia used the McCollum to justify the death penalty in an unrelated case. He said, “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with [rape and murder]!” Justice Harry Blackmun answered, “Buddy McCollum … has an IQ between 60 and 69 and the mental age of a 9-year old. He reads on a second grade level. This factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in his case is unconstitutional.” Now McCollum will not have to suffer the “quiet death by lethal injection.”

Voting, women’s rights, health care, death penalty, marriage equality, transparency–all these are beginning to succeed because of the judicial system. Now we’ll wait for the appeals.

August 23, 2014

Ferguson (MO): Two Weeks of Strife

brown bodyTwo weeks ago today, Michael Brown’s body was allowed to remain on a Ferguson (MO) street after a police officer killed him. During the ensuing demonstrations, militarized officers intimidated, tear gassed, assaulted, and arrested protesters including threats to kill journalists and refusals to give them names when asked.

More news ensuing from Brown’s killing:

This catalog of military gear and weapons used in Ferguson is horrifying.

This interactive map shows the way that free federal supplies have militarized the United States, allowing many places to resemble war zones. One of the heaviest armed areas is Maricopa County (AZ) because of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s aggressive perspective on serving his community. Not listed on this site are such acquisitions as the snow parkas sent to New Orleans.

The ACLU released this report in June, less than two months before police officer Warren killed Brown. It reflects the increase in militarization that will continue because of the weapons’ industry contributions and lobbying to legislators.

It doesn’t matter if Michael Brown stole a box of cigars. But he didn’t steal them. The complete video of Brown in the store shows him paying for the cigars. And neither the owner nor employees called the police to report any theft. The call came from a customer in the store

Although a grand jury has been convened to determine a prosecution of Darren Wilson, the man who killed Brown, Missouri law will most likely exonerate him because prosecution must disprove a defendant’s claim of self-defense. “Any reasonable doubt on the issue requires a finding for the defendant.” Missouri law also permits deadly force “to effect the arrest.” The grand jury has nine whites and three blacks, two of them women.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch said that there is no incident report on Brown’s killing. Two weeks after the death, people are petitioning McCulloch’s recusal from the case on grounds of bias.

jamilah nasheedWhen State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed tried to deliver 70,000 signatures to St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch on a petition calling for a special prosecutor, police threatened to arrest her. After two minutes, the police backed down, and she was allowed to enter a public building.

St. Louis County police raided a Ferguson church last Wednesday—for the third time. Greater St. Mark Church used part of the property for first aid treatment of people injured in police attacks during demonstration; people were also able to get food and water there. The latest raid had 20 police, but unlike earlier raids, they didn’t carry assault weapons or remove supplies.

“I’m into diversity. I kill everybody, I don’t care.” That’s what Oathkeeper and St. Louis police officer Dan Page told fellow Oathkeepers (the same group that caused the standoff at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada). An investigation following Page’s pushing CNN’s Dan Lemon resulted in Page’s temporary suspension from the force. The video of his speech to the Oathkeepers is here.

A St. Louis-area police officer working in Ferguson falsely accused a group of protestors of shooting at police, said Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson holds a racial “double standard,” and asserted that he would like to punch attorney general Eric Holder. Later he had to admit that he wasn’t telling the truth about the shooting because reporters had a video tape. He also accused Johnson’s approach as “Hug a Thug.” Other police officers have referred to demonstrators as “animals.”

After eyewitness Piaget Crenshaw came forward with a video of Brown’s killing, the police confiscated her phone and refused to release the video. She said she witnessed Officer Darren Wilson running after Brown and shooting him several times for no apparent reason after Brown stopped running and turned to face Wilson. She also described the struggle at the police car when it appeared that Wilson tried to pull Brown into the car and Brown broke away.

Ferguson gets the second-largest part of its budget from fines and court fees. An annual average of 1.5 cases and three warrants in this town of 21,000 nets the government $2,635,400. Although the town is two-thirds black, whites who are stopped in cars are half as likely to be searched or arrested. The discovery of contraband is far more likely with whites than blacks.

The ACLU sued Ferguson for barring journalists from reporting and sought a court order to tell police that this was illegal. A judge provided a court agreement “that the media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgment unless it obstructs the activity or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.” The police ignored the order. Information about treatment of the journalists is here.

Getty images staff photographer Scott Olsen, who took the following photo, was one of the members of the media who was arrested and later released.

scott olsen

Because voting participation is extremely low, 12 percent in the most recent election in the Ferguson area, community members set up a tent in town for a voter-registration drive. One volunteer said, “We’re trying to make young people understand that this is how to change things.” Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills has expressed outrage about this action and called it “completely inappropriate.”

The city of Ferguson has hired the PR firm Common Ground [below] to help them with their problems that resulted from racial differences.

Ferguson PR firm

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told the press that police shooter Darren Wilson had no disciplinary reports in his file. He’s probably correct because until 2010 use of force complaints were filed with the cases and not the officers’ files. The officer would complete non-fatal use-of-force reports and give it to the supervisor before it would be put with the case file. Jackson started to change the protocol, but there is no record of how long it took to implement the process. No one knows if he had any disciplinary reports.

In defending the U.S. justice system, Missouri’s Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said, “We have legal processes that are set in motion, that are designed after centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence tradition…. That’s one of the great advances of Anglo-American civilization, is that we do not have politicized trials. We let the justice system work it out.” Kinder was admitting that the justice system in this nation is based on white ideals and white standards.

Hedy Epstein, 90-year-old human rights activist and Holocaust survivor was arrested in front of Gov. Jay Nixon’s office in St. Louis with seven other protesters for failure to disperse.

Fox contributor Todd Starnes wrote on his Facebook page that President Obama is “orchestrating the Michael Brown tragedy.” Alex Jones called the demonstrations a “staged (by the military) race war.”

On Fox and Friends, contributor Bo Dietl explained away the police officer’s shooting Michael Brown by saying “bullets go that way.” He also condemned Captain Ron Johnson, who led the Highway Patrol in Ferguson, for apologizing for Brown’s death in a speech at an African-American church.

Both Egypt and Russia have called for international intervention in Ferguson following the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. For the first time ever, Amnesty International has sent a delegation of observers and organizers to provide support to community members and watch police response to protests because of the police violence in Ferguson. The police forced the observers out of the protest area at gun point.

The good parts:

Julianna Mendelsohn, a North Carolina teacher, has raised over $150,000 to feed children in Ferguson because the delay in school opening is causing them to go hungry. In a district of 11,000, over 68 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

With school not yet opening, teachers have volunteered their time to work with students in the public library, providing a safe place for children. About 120 children came for the “classes.” The library also gave residents a place to get bottled water and check their emails.

black guns 1And:

This image from Texas may soon be reflective of Missouri. The white police force in Ferguson police was heavily armed while demonstrators, primarily black, had almost no weapons. Photographs of whites–mostly male–proliferate on the net in stores, restaurants, shopping malls, parks, etc. and see black people open carrying. In a protest against police violence, the 30 members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club want a change. Their website reads:

black guns 2“The recent murders of unarmed black, brown, and whites across the United States of America has eradicated trust in the police states. Individuals across this nation have been stripped of due process, subjected to state-sponsored police terrorism, and continue to suffer the fate of being terminated extra-judicially.”

Black activist Huey P. Newton co-founded the militant Black Panther party with Bobby Seale in 1966, resulting in U.S. gun control laws. The Huey P. Newton Gun Club might encourage gun control.

August 16, 2014

Ferguson Highlights Extreme Race, Class Divisions

Ferguson (MO) had one night of largely peaceful protesting before events took a bad turn last night. Because of media reporting, many people in the nation are blaming the demonstrators for their lack of control. A more careful view of events, however, shows a different view. A posting called “Dumbest Police Chief in America” summarizes the stupidity of both the Ferguson and its police chief, Tom Jackson, from the time one week ago when a police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old black male for walking in the street.

As the blog points out, Jackson inflamed the community yesterday through his press conferences. He contradicted himself repeatedly, said he wasn’t interested in talking with the community at large, announced that the victim probably stole cigars from a convenience store before stating that the police officer didn’t know about this, and then praised the officer who killed the teenager. Jackson didn’t even bother to inform state highway patrol Captain Ron Johnson, in charge of the security in Ferguson, about his press conferences. Johnson said that he heard about it television. Jackson said that he told the head of the St. Louis County police because he forgot that they were no longer involved in the Ferguson situation. A fuller description of yesterday’s events is here.

To their credit, many of the protesters helped protect the convenience store from looters last night. Because of the anger from Jackson’s statements, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has called a curfew tonight from midnight to 5:00 am—again without involving Johnson. Making the situation even worse is that St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch is currently in charge of determining whether the officer who killed Brown will face criminal charges. McCulloch has already told a reporter that shifting oversight from the Ferguson and St. Louis County police to the state highway patrol was “illegal” and “disgraceful”  and that their show of force was not “excessive.”

Many in the community as well as St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley believe that McCulloch shouldn’t handle the case because of extreme bias. State law does not allow for the removal of McCulloch except for a relationship to the defendant or another conflict of interest such as having represented someone involved in the case. McCulloch has said that he has no intention of giving the case to anyone else.

The racial and class divide is shown in Julia Loffe’s piece for New Republic: 

About a 15-minute drive from the Ferguson protest that, by now, feels more like a block party, in the more upscale St. Louis suburb of Olivette, there’s a new strip mall with a barbecue joint and a Starbucks and an e-cigarette store. On a mild Thursday evening in August, people sat around tables, sipping coffee, sipping beer, dabbing barbecue sauce off their fingers.

All of these people were white.

It was a stark contrast to Ferguson, which is two-thirds black. Olivette is almost the exact opposite, at over 60 percent white. St. Louis, and the little hamlets that ring it, is one of the most segregated cities in America, and it shows.

Here in Olivette, the people I spoke to showed little sympathy for Michael Brown, or the protesters.

“It’s bullshit,” said one woman, who declined to give her name. When I asked her to clarify what, specifically, was bullshit, she said, “All of it. I don’t even know what they’re fighting for.”

“It’s just a lot of misplaced anger,” said one teenage boy, echoing his parents. He wasn’t sure where the anger should be, just that there should be no anger at all, and definitely no stealing.

“Our opinion,” said the talkative one in a group of six women in their sixties sitting outside the Starbucks, “is the media should just stay out of it because they’re riling themselves up even more.”

“The protesters like seeing themselves on TV,” her friend added.

“It’s just a small group of people making trouble,” said another.

“The kid wasn’t really innocent,” chimed in a woman at the other end of the table (they all declined to give their names). “He was struggling with the cop, and he’s got a rap sheet already, so he’s not that innocent.” (While the first point is in dispute, the second isn’t: The police have said that Michael Brown had no criminal record.)

If anything, the people here were disdainful and, mostly, scared—of the protesters, and, implicitly, of black people.

“I don’t think it’s about justice for Michael Brown’s family,” said the teenage boy. “It’s just an excuse for people to do whatever they want to do.”

One man I talked to, a stay-at-home dad who is a landlord to three black tenants and one white one in Ferguson (“my black tenants would never do that,” he clarified) was more sympathetic to Brown and also had the sense that the police had overdone it a bit. But he was scared of the protests. I told him that the protest that day was entirely peaceful, festive almost. “You know,” he said. “I have a wife and three children, and if something were to happen to me, that would be very bad.”

As for the protests, well, they weren’t about justice; they were just an excuse. “People are just taking the opportunity to satisfy their desire for junk,” said one woman, knowingly. As if black people, the lust for theft encoded in their DNA, are just barely kept in line by authority.

“When they kill each other, we never hear about it,” one of the Starbucks women said. This, she meant, was a good thing. “When it’s black-on-black violence, we never hear about it.”

I asked why she thought that was.

“Because, basically, they hate whites!” her friend chimed in. “Prejudice, reverse prejudice. Prejudice goes both ways.”

The others signaled their agreement.

“It’s not Ferguson people. It’s a lot of outside people coming in.”

This was a sore subject with several of the people I spoke to. A major problem with the protests—and they very clearly did not mean the militarized police response to the protests—was that they were tarnishing St. Louis’s image as a nice place.

“I’m embarrassed to say I’m from St. Louis,” the “bullshit” woman grumbled.

“Me, too,” said her friend. “I don’t tell people I’m from St. Louis anymore.”

“We have never had anything like this in St. Louis!” her friend exclaimed, flustered, as if trying to clear the city’s good name. “Ever!”

As the women grew uncomfortable, one of them hit on a way to fight back.

“Where are you from?” she asked me.

“Washington,” I said.

“Well,” she said, satisfied. “You people have trouble too sometimes.”

And they all laughed.

These people—like many others, including Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s The Morning Joe Show and Rush Limbaugh—just want these people to be quiet about the dangers that they face.

As Jeff Smith, who once represented St. Louis City in the Missouri Senate, knows, black people “want St. Louis to quit it with the knee-jerk paternalism and actually hear their message. They want white St. Louis to finally make an effort to grapple with its shameful racial history, a history in which a complex alchemy of private decisions and public policies conspired to leave north St. Louis County divided by race and class. They want to win some agency of their own lives instead of being at the mercy of forces that have so often let them down—or actively impeded them.”

One way that police could quiet protesting voices is to shut down cell phones during public demonstrations. A bill accidentally proposing that has passed the California legislation. The “kill switch” bill was intended to stop cell phone theft by requiring all smartphones sold in the state of 37 million people to include a feature that allows users to remotely wipe data and make devices inoperable. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out, the bill “is not explicit about who can activate such a switch.” Ferguson police officials amply demonstrated law enforcement’s abuse of all the tools available to them. The San Francisco subway authority already interrupted cell phone service in 2011 because of protesting.

Jerry Hartfield is one prime example of why black people should be angry. With an IQ of 51, he was convicted in 1977 of a murder and sentenced to death in Texas. The ruling was overturned in 1980, but a series of mistakes kept him in prison. Now a court has declared that he must be tried again before he can be released. The judge won’t let him out because “there is no evidence that Hartfield has suffered any anxiety relating to his pretrial detention.” The same month that the judge left Hartfield in prison, another judge gave probation to a child molester because “he will not fare well” in prison.

Blacks may be better off in prison. According to the FBI, police kill almost two black people every week, and almost 20 percent of those killed are under 21, more than double the rate of whites in the same age group. These are just the police-reported killings: there could be far more.

August 15, 2014

Ferguson: An Example of Segregated Schools

Filed under: Education — trp2011 @ 9:33 PM
Tags: , , ,

Much has been said about the political situation in Ferguson (MO), but a huge problem lies in the schools. GOP legislators have cut trillions of dollars from budgets through massive tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations while spending more trillions on George W. Bush’s manufactured wars. Transferring federal fiscal obligations to states left them unable to fund their responsibilities. Problems in badly underfunded schools were exacerbated by punitive measures for artificial evaluation. Ferguson is a prime example of the GOP approach toward educating young people in the nation.

A remembrance of Michael Brown, the slain teenager, highlights our country’s low regard for educating its youth. Despite great disadvantages, Brown earned his diploma nine days before he was killed. He was scheduled to being schooling at a vocational school specializing in air conditioning and heating just a short time after he was murdered.

Brown’s graduation photograph was taken almost four months before he graduated because Normandy High School owned only two graduation gowns for the entire class. Two students would wear the gowns at one time, sit before the camera for their graduation portraits, and then pass the gowns on to the next two students. Needing more credits, Brown didn’t graduate with his class and went to summer school to earn his diploma.

Brown’s school district was formed by combining Normandy and Wellston districts. The poverty rate for families at Normandy was 92 percent; at Wellston, it was 98 percent. Every student at Wellston was black. Wellston, one-tenth the size of the almost 5,000-student Normandy, had been unaccredited for seven years; Normandy was on provisional accreditation for 18 years.

The state education board voted to merge these two districts in 2010, the first time that it changed school districts in 35 years. White flight in the districts had crashed property values and destroyed tax revenues. Better-off residents in the districts sent their children to private schools. To support the school, residents kept voting to raise their own property taxes, resulting in the highest rates in the state, but district revenues kept decreasing.

In 2012, the state board rated Normandy as a failed district, removed its accreditation, and put it under direct state control. Although the purpose was to redesign the district, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that students in a failed district could go to other districts. Hundreds of Normandy students transferred to other districts, some of them majority white.

In Francis Howell (a 90-percent white) district, parents rebelled at the thought of having black students in their schools. During a school board meeting there, one mother said, “I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed.” Another parent added, “We don’t want this here in Francis Howell.”

Their fears did not come to fruition, and Francis Howell found that the 400 students who transferred into their district worked well with the other students. Normandy, however, suffered more financial problems because it had to pay for transportation and tuition to the districts where students transferred. Those who stayed at Normandy held pep rallies and welcome-back-to-school gatherings; students tutored each other to improve the school’s academic ranking. They said that there was a sense of optimism despite the deprivation of resources.

Funding for transfer students cost the district more than educating students within the district because other districts spent far more on students than Normandy could afford. The state board of education took over the district’s finances and gave Normandy “accreditation as a state oversight district.” Nothing had changed for the district to obtain accreditation, but students were no longer able to transfer to other districts. The revised minutes from June read:

“The Missouri State Board of Education, pursuant to its statutory authority to waive its rules, including those regulating accreditation, has accredited the Normandy Schools Collaborative and thus its schools. Because of that accreditation, the Plaintiffs are not entitled to relief….”

Some members of the Missouri Board of Education had opposed the transfers with the argument that parents moved into the Normandy district last summer just to have their pick of high-performing school districts. No data supported this fear. After former Superintendent Stanton Lawrence was replaced by a white superintendent in the midst of this process, he wrote this description of this school reform of punitive disparity in “How Missouri Killed the Normandy School District.”

When students were told that they had to return to Normandy, Francis Howell, among other districts, was pleased and issued this statement:

“FHSD has consistently held the beliefs that transferring students from an unaccredited school district is not the solution to improving struggling schools, and that the funds spent on tuition and transportation for transfer students can be more effectively spent on educating the whole Normandy student population.”

Normandy no longer had any legal rights because it wasn’t a district. According to the state board of education, it was a special collaborative and “not in any district in this state.” The Normandy school district was now run by the president of the state board of education, Peter F. Herschend, of Branson (MO). With no background in education, he owns Herschend Family Entertainment which runs Silver Dollar City and other amusement parks. He is also one of the biggest contributors to the Republican Party in the state. The person in charge of Michael Brown’s school district, an urban, minority district so poor that students have only two graduation gowns to share, was a white Republican millionaire who lives over 200 miles away.

Late this afternoon, a St. Louis County Circuit Court ruled that students can again transfer from Normandy to other schools. The children of four families can enroll immediately, leaving the door open for another 500 students to return. The ruling invalidates decisions made by the Missouri Board of Education in June intended to get the Normandy Schools Collaborative out from under the school transfer law. Judge Michael Burton wrote:

“It is in the public interest for the plaintiffs to prevail. Every child in this community has a right to a decent education.”

No one knows what will happen now. There may be appeals, or students may be able to transfer to other schools. No matter what, this is the state of education in one state—and may be better than in other states.

Sixty years after the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was intended to stop school segregation, schools are more segregated than ever—and segregated economically as well as racially. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows the isolation of black youth.

Court orders to integrate have mostly been lifted, many of them during George W. Bush’s terms, leaving schools to re-segregate. For example, Tuscaloosa (AL) had a thriving, demographically mixed high school until the integration mandate was lifted. White parents lobbied for districts to separate white and black students.

In a classic case of haves and have-nots, black neighborhoods have fewer primary care physicians and fewer grocery stores, and children growing up are more likely to be exposed to lead paint and to have asthma. Parents work less-flexible jobs with less time to foster learning by taking their children to zoos, libraries, and museums. Before kindergarten, minority kids are behind, and few of them ever catch up. Teachers in schools with the neediest students are usually the least qualified.

Young people in poor schools lack the resources that booster clubs and PTA funding in advantaged schools provide, and every year lack of funding requires parents to fund more and more things that taxes used to provide. Yet the poverty of many minorities demand greater resources than middle-class white students need in order to achieve success.

We are a country of elitist education, and Ferguson, Missouri, is an example of what happens because of this inequality.

[Note: The Daily KOS story drew many comments about whether people had to pay for graduation gowns. The gowns are a symbol of poverty that runs far deeper.]

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