On Michael Brown and Darren Wilson

Dumping my thoughts here.

Brown and his family and community obviously got a rotten deal here. It seems very unlikely that Wilson’s behavior was completely appropriate; that Brown would simply attack him for no reason a few days away from starting school. I could imagine a scenario in which Brown was rushing Wilson as a form of self protection. That Wilson did not use a taser or some other method of de-escalation was also a very unfortunate error that he should pay for.

Cameras need to be rolling. Any officer with lethal weapons should be wearing one, and it should auto-activate whenever the officer touches a weapon or moves quickly; better to accidentally capture unneeded footage. Funding is going to be a problem here because—it’s my impression that—high crime areas also tend to be underfunded. We should fix that.

Wilson, and probably any officer left in such a situation (having killed an unarmed citizen with no immediate video evidence) should be arrested to show seriousness in delivering justice. Police unions will obviously fight such a policy, but hopefully this will show how failing to do so can make an officer’s life much worse and reduce the credibility of the entire profession. Wilson will be known by many as a murderer of an unarmed teen regardless of what really happened, and that’s not how justice should work.

When he goes to trial it’s hard to imagine anyone being happy with the outcome. Brown was big, tall and could clearly intimidate, and the type of individuals who make it into juries I suspect will very much believe a uniformed officer. A video of Wilson pacing after the shooting won’t prove wrongdoing. Brown’s family would be wise to bring a civil suit against the PD and I’m sure they will. Lots of Ferguson’s citizens and press agencies should sue them. Payoffs change behavior.

The St. Louis Police have, through their incompetence at crowd-handling and arresting of press members, done the country a great service in raising public awareness of the problem of police militarization. Hopefully this will change policies that currently help local police dress like soldiers and bring warfare tactics to U.S. streets.

It’s sad that people will use a peaceful protest as an excuse to loot local businesses and attack officers. Protesters that deny this stuff is happening lose credibility.

I’m conflicted about the wisdom of protesting in the middle of the night. On one hand this will give cover to miscreants and increase the danger to everyone. On the other hand this undoubtedly is helping keep Ferguson and the issues its facing in the public eye. It’s hard to change policies via polite daytime picketing.

Change happens when journalists are chased, shot in the back with rubber bullets, and arrested.

The Hard Road Ahead

I’m starting to believe the only way out of this recession and national deficit is through tough choices that offend the ideologies of every political party:

  • higher taxes for everyone
  • spending cuts, including the military
  • bailouts for state/local safety nets that ease real human suffering, not select industries
  • finding and migrating to foreign aid measures that actually work
  • renegotiating way-above-market public pensions inked during the golden bubble years
  • forcing big banks to cramdown city/county debts that arose due to fraud
  • downsizing the massively expensive and world-leading incarceration industrial complex, perhaps by depoliticizing the CJS
  • reducing barriers to starting up new businesses, especially rent seeking at the local/state level
  • stimulating the wedding industry by ensuring the freedom of everyone to marry

Now who in Congress is up for all that?

$374B of Bloody Cartel Money Laundered through U.S. Banks

I’ve been waiting for a story like this to come along.

“It’s the banks laundering money for the cartels that finances the tragedy,” says Martin Woods, director of Wachovia’s anti-money-laundering unit in London from 2006 to 2009. Woods says he quit the bank in disgust after executives ignored his documentation that drug dealers were funneling money through Wachovia’s branch network.

“If you don’t see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 22,000 people killed in Mexico, you’re missing the point,” Woods says.

With our drug policy, guns, and even our bankers, we’re killing Mexico.

California’s upcoming Cannabis ballot initiative

In November Californians will see on their ballot the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. The act would basically “legalize” cannabis—all involved in such an industry would remain in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act, and subject to the whims of the federal DEA and Dept. of Justice—for adults 21 and up, and set up some initial regulations on use, sale, cultivation, and transport. The act is fairly short and readable and seems like a reasonable initial regulatory structure to me.

The Good:

  • Could greatly reduce the prevalence of violent raids on private homes
  • Would keep otherwise-law-abiding adults out of the criminal justice system
  • Would reduce the wasteful use of treatment facilities on individuals just choosing treatment over jail
  • Would restore more respect for law enforcement
  • Home growing might greatly reduce the market value of cannabis, which might keep cannabis selling industries smaller, less able to lobby for looser regulations, and less able to afford expensive advertising campaigns. Ironically this act might make large-scale dispensaries—who funded the signature drive—less likely to exist.
  • The legitimization of cannabis could result in safer usage practices becoming the standard of use.
  • Local governments could add regulations to force sellers to provide safety information (e.g. how long impairment could last, how to recognize signs of trouble, recommending the use of vaporizers, harm research results)
  • Users who medically benefit from the drug (a small but non-zero percentage of CA’s current users) would have less trouble obtaining it.
  • Could significantly shrink black markets, including those that will continue to serve minors. E.g. A teen who can more easily steal pot from adult siblings or friends is less likely to seek out a dealer who may sell other drugs.
  • Could reduce alcohol use and associated violence and overdose deaths.
  • Could nudge Congress toward more reasonable cannabis laws and more federal research of cannabis (not just limited to harms).

The Bad:

  • Commercialization and legitimization will yield increases in the number of users (though in many parts of the state there are plenty of adult users).
  • Would make some law enforcement activities more difficult. E.g. users and sellers of harder drugs are often caught due to possession of marijuana, which is generally harder to conceal.
  • Home growing doesn’t nudge users toward safer delivery methods or place users in contact with someone who could theoretically provide helpful education/intervention. I say “theoretically” because California’s current policy creates too much incentive for doctors to be “pot docs”, who do little more than sell handwritten licenses.
  • Many users will simply combine pot use with alcohol use.
  • Even though it would remain illegal, driving under the influence of pot will probably rise. This is concerning, but the best available research is still pretty weak on the notion that casual usage creates significant danger. Pot users appear to be more aware of their impairment.
  • Will probably not yield of windfall of tax revenue for California
  • More people smoking things. Learning to smoke pot lessons the difficulty and foreignness of trying other smoked substances, which are generally more harmful than pot, including tobacco. If “spliffs”—cannabis with tobacco—became popular, this could lead to more tobacco smoking (which is proven to be carcinogenic) and more complicated addiction.

I still think the good outweighs the bad. Bring on the great democratic experiment!

SCOTUS: Florida handed out cruel & unusal sentences

The Supreme Court today ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole for nonhomocide crimes. Good. How does Florida fit in the picture? Seventy-seven of the 129 American juveniles sentenced to LWOP are in Florida. Either Florida’s teens are the most evil in the nation or something in the CJS is wrong. Today it’s slightly less wrong.

Fun fact: Florida eliminated parole in 1983.

Update: I’m hesitantly changing my mind on this decision. I think good will come of the attention it (and FL’s CJS) receives, but I don’t think it was necessarily correct. Whether the victim(s) of a crime happen to all survive—even if left for dead—is as much an arbitrary delimiter as whether the offender was just shy of 18 when the crime was committed. The case before the court presented one of the obvious examples of FL’s sentencing inflation, but the decision isn’t going to fix that. FL prosecutors can continue to request just barely short of life sentences. If anything will “fix” it, it’ll be the cost of continuing to build prisons.

Another Great Drug War Moment

From Radley Balko:

In February, I wrote the following about a drug raid in Missouri:

SWAT team breaks into home, fires seven rounds at family’s pit bull and corgi (?!) as a seven-year-old looks on.

They found a “small amount” of marijuana, enough for a misdemeanor charge. The parents were then charged with child endangerment.

So smoking pot = “child endangerment.” Storming a home with guns, then firing bullets into the family pets as a child looks on = necessary police procedures to ensure everyone’s safety.

Just so we’re clear.

Now there’s video, which you can watch below. It’s horrifying, but I’d urge you to watch it, and to send it to the drug warriors in your life. This is the blunt-end result of all the war imagery and militaristic rhetoric politicians have been spewing for the last 30 years—cops dressed like soldiers, barreling through the front door middle of the night, slaughtering the family pets, filling the house with bullets in the presence of children, then having the audacity to charge the parents with endangering their own kid…

There are 100-150 of these raids every day in America, the vast, vast majority like this one, to serve a warrant for a consensual crime.

But Jonathan Whitworth won’t be smoking that pot they found in his possession. So I guess this mission was a success.

Yet Another Sexting Prosecution Attempt

You know what could help teens deal with the new pressures that technology brings to adolescence? Felony records and “sex offender” labels! The latest case brings felony charges against kids of 12 and 13 (via Radley Balko). I’ve been meaning to write about this issue, but just read these instead:

Or if you’d rather enjoy the rest of your day, don’t.

HOPE Turns Into a Bill

Sent to my House Representative Corrine Brown (links added here):

Ms. Brown,
I encourage you to support H.R. 4055, Honest Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) Initiative Act of 2009. Hawaiian Judge Alm’s probation and parole reform program has shown we can significantly reduce both crime and imprisonment.

The program is a clear winner all around: States save prison space, the public enjoys less crime from participants on probation/parole, and those participants significantly reduce their likelihood of heading back to prison.

You can read about this program here:

Thank you for your time.

Steve Clay,

Please write your representative in support of this bill. Here’s a video of Mark Kleiman discussing the H.O.P.E. program and other topics in his recent book, which I need to get around to writing about…

Latest 9/11 Victim: our Justice System

Greenwald makes a pretty convincing case that Bush/Obama’s “justice system” for accused terrorists is merely for display purposes only.

If you’re accused of being a Terrorist, there’s not one set procedure used to determine your guilt; instead, the Government has a roving bazaar of various processes which it, in its sole discretion, picks for you based on ensuring that it will win. Even worse, Holder repeatedly assured Senators that the administration would continue to imprison 9/11 defendants even in the very unlikely case that they were acquitted, citing what they previously suggested was their Orwellian authority of so-called “post-acquittal detention powers.” Is there any better definition of a “show trial” than one in which the defendant has no chance of ever being released even if acquitted, because the Government will simply thereafter assert the power to hold him indefinitely without charges?

9/11 didn’t “change everything”; we let the Bush administration do that. Al-Qaeda had no ability to rewrite the rules of what happens to an arbitrary individual pulled off the street by the U.S. government. They couldn’t force us to torture captives, or to view detainment as its own justification or proof of wrongdoing. We tore down our own principles of justice and due process.

The cost of rebuilding them is to take the (real) risk of acquitting some individuals truly guilty of horrible crimes. While we won’t get that from Obama or any politician facing reelection, here’s to the hope that America’s willingness to sacrifice principles for revenge will die with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.