Thursday, July 21, 2016

Police shoot unarmed black man (again)

How many more of these police shootings must we witness before it stops? The latest shooting victim, Charles Kinsey, is a caregiver at a group home.

Mr. Kinsey was shot as he lay on the ground with his hands up. He told the police he was a caregiver and that he was trying to take care of an autistic man who walked out of the group home.

Didn't matter. The police shot him anyway.

Why wasn't the officer who shot him arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon? Why wasn't he booked into the county jail? Why didn't he sit in custody until someone posted a bond? Why isn't he going to court to answer to the charges against him?

Here is the bullshit response from the police:

“There is preliminary information that North Miami Police Officers were dispatched to the scene after a 911 call was received of an armed male suspect threatening suicide. Arriving officers attempted to negotiate with two men on the scene, one of whom was later identified as suffering from autism. The other man was later identified as an employee of an assisted living facility. At some point during the on-scene negotiation, one of the responding officers discharged his weapon, striking the employee.”

"Later identified." That's funny. Mr. Kinsey identified himself as a caregiver right before he was shot.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The grass is always greener

Here's an interesting piece from Sports Illustrated about Ricky Williams who walked away from the NFL. I went to the University of Texas at the same time Ricky did and remember watching him play ball at DKR. He was a stud running back (who at one point held the NCAA record for career rushing yards) but he marched to the beat of his own drummer (and still does).

Our marijuana laws make no sense. Alcohol is a much more dangerous drug but it's perfectly legal and manufacturers pay plenty in taxes to the government for the privilege of producing it. As you know, I defend people accused of drunk driving and I see the consequences of it every day. Why the federales leave marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug I will never understand - it has been clearly demonstrated that various components of marijuana have legitimate therapeutic uses.

The NFL has a strict anti-marijuana policy but looks the other way when team doctors hand out painkillers like candy so players can be rushed back onto the field quicker. They are more concerned about the league's image then they are for the people the league chews up and spits out on a regular basis.

Instead of legalizing - or at least de-criminalizing - marijuana we choose to enforce laws that make young people criminals and threaten their ability to obtain student loans for college. Yet we'll just slap 'em on the wrist for underage drinking which is a far more serious problem.

It's time we got past Reefer Madness, wouldn't you agree?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Praying for hypocrisy

Last week I was at the Fort Bend County Courthouse in Richmond and noticed a church down the road with a sign announcing a prayer service for the Dallas police officers who were killed the previous week.

I couldn't help but wonder if they held prayer services for Alton Sterling or Philando Castile, too.

Pronouncements such as this are the subtle ways we perpetuate racism and prejudice in this country. Bumper stickers reading Back the Blue and Cops' Lives Matter are ways that folks can express their prejudice without being so blatant. And just what the fuck is Pray for Police supposed to mean? They're the ones killing black men at point blank range. Do they want absolution or something?

This is how we indoctrinate our children to accept blindly what they are told by authority figures. This is how we indoctrinate them to hate and look upon those who are different with disdain or fear. Through religion we attempt to paper over the hypocrisy of murder as a sin and blind support of the military and the permanent war.

Interesting how the Jesus fought for the benefit of the downtrodden and spoke for those without a voice while the modern churches that use his name speak for those in power and those with money.

We'll just have to wait and see for whom prayer services are held the next time a young black man is gunned down by a man wearing a badge.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Black and white and green

I read an interesting article in Slate yesterday about the demographic problems that Donald Trump is facing in the general election this fall. But that's not what I wanted to talk about today. I did read one stat that I think is a good jumping off point for looking at how American capitalism is unique in the world.

Trump has unprecedented pull with working-class whites, especially men. If he can match past Republican performance with college-educated whites and hold his increased share among their counterparts with high school diplomas, he’ll have a smooth path to victory.

Why is it that white working class males are such solid Republicans? Why are they supporting candidates whose policies benefit the corporate class at the expense of the working class?

It has to do with the unique nature of American capitalism. And just what is unique about American capitalism?

The legacy of slavery and institutional racism are foundations upon which the American economic system is built. For generations the corporate elite and their bag men have fomented racism as a means of dividing the working class. And they have succeeded. Today white working class males feel they have more in common with their bosses than they do with their fellow workers.

The white working class has been so permeated with racist ideology that they have become blind to what's in their own self interest. Republicans and toadies of the corporate class realized this during the Civil Rights movement. There's a reason that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated following a speech to sanitation workers in Memphis. In tying the fight for equality with the fight for workers to earn a living wage and with the fight against the war in Vietnam, King became a dangerous figure and had to be eliminated.

Republicans, conservatives and the corporate class have been sowing seeds of discord within the ranks of the working class ever since. They have done this by portraying the struggles of racial and ethnic minorities as attacks on American values instead of a attack against economic and political oppression.

The result has been a fragmented working class that works against its own self-interest. This fragmented working class allows the corporate class to hold down wages and move jobs overseas whenever it becomes profitable for them to do so.

So long as the corporate class is able to use race as a wedge to drive between workers, the working class in this country will continue to be oppressed with low wages, no job security and private health care coverage.

For all of the talk from our political leaders about what happened in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas last week, we will never eliminate racism because it is so ingrained in our economic system. We can move beyond prejudice but institutional racism will remain because it brings about bigger profits for the corporate class.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Keeping up with appearances

Earlier this week China lost a dispute over control of parts of the South China Sea. The Philippines filed suit in an international tribunal over violations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Despite being a signatory of the agreement, China balked at its language when it came to parceling out disputed regions of the South China Sea. And (hypocritical) political figures in the U.S. and Britain pontificated on why the Chinese should heed the decision.

But here is the rub. How is this decision to be implemented? If there is no enforcement mechanism then the decision of the tribunal isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

But while the decision is legally binding, there is no mechanism for enforcing it, and China, which refused to participate in the tribunal’s proceedings, reiterated on Tuesday that it would not abide by it.

And that is the problem with international law. Sure, we can set up tribunals to rule on a variety of disputes around the world - but if all the winner gets is a piece of paper, what's the purpose?

Unless every country agrees to be governed by a particular mechanism and agrees to an enforcement protocol, the law doesn't mean a thing. The United Nations is not capable of enforcing the agreement and neither is any government.

In fact, no one wants an international body that's capable of enforcing international "law." What world leader in their right mind would cede national sovereignty over such issues? What world leader would voluntarily subject his own government to the various prohibitions that the U.N. has produced over the years? If such a body existed is there any reason to doubt that George W. Bush would have been charged with violating international law? Is there any reason to doubt that President Obama would soon join him in the dock?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Taking away freedom on the cheap

One of our worst nightmares is being wrongly arrested by the police and getting lost in the criminal (in)justice system. Thanks to a cheap drug test kit, many folks around the country have had the pleasure of being arrested, having their cars impounded, losing their jobs and their apartments for no reason at all.

Factor in the pressure some folks have to plead guilty by appointed attorneys in order to get out of jail quicker and you have a situation that should shock the conscience of our nation. Yet it's something we are more than happy to sweep under the rug.

Last week the New York Times Magazine ran an article about the real life aftermath of the cheap roadside test kit focusing on the ordeal faced by one Amy Albritton from Louisiana. Her nightmare occurred right here in my hometown, Houston.

She and a friend were stopped by officers when they were in town for her friend's job interview. One officer claimed to have found a syringe needle in the visor and a (coerced) search of the car then turned up a powder-like substance (that Ms. Albritton said was BC headache powder) and a grain of something on the floorboard.

The officer who broke open the test kit claimed it showed the grain of something was, in fact, a piece of crack cocaine. Ms. Albritton was arrested (her friend disclaimed any knowledge of the substance and, since it was her car, she took the ride downtown) and charged with possession of a controlled substance - a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in prison.

There are no established error rates for the field tests, in part because their accuracy varies so widely depending on who is using them and how. In Las Vegas, authorities re-examined a sampling of cocaine field tests conducted between 2010 and 2013 and found that 33 percent of them were false positives. Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab system show that 21 percent of evidence that the police listed as methamphetamine after identifying it was not methamphetamine, and half of those false positives were not any kind of illegal drug at all. In one notable Florida episode, Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies produced 15 false positives for methamphetamine in the first seven months of 2014. When we examined the department’s records, they showed that officers, faced with somewhat ambiguous directions on the pouches, had simply misunderstood which colors indicated a positive result.

The next morning Ms. Albritton met with a gentlemen who told her he was her court-appointed attorney. While she claimed innocence, he told her that the prosecutor would offer her 45 days (under a provision of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that allows certain felonies to be punished as misdemeanors) and that she would be in jail for much longer if she actually chose to fight her case. She gave in and pled guilty before Judge Vanessa Velasquez.

A later test of the substances by the Houston Police Department Crime Lab (who apparently tested substances from closed cases on a regular basis but never notified anyone of the results - among other sins that have been documented previously) showed that the substance in question was not crack cocaine. The tests also showed that there was nothing in the needle and that the powdery substance was BC powder.

All of this was a day late and a dollar short for Ms. Albritton who lost her job and was now hamstrung with a felony conviction due to her wrongful arrest.

Now, if we know that these kits are inherently unreliable and that their accuracy is affected by light and temperature and other environmental factors, why do we allow these tests to be the basis of criminal charges that have serious ramifications for the people involved? Why aren't we waiting for the results of actual lab tests before we file charges against someone? Why are we holding folks in jail for non-violent drug offenses simply because they can't afford to post a bond? And why the fuck are attorneys pressuring their "clients" to plead guilty without the benefit of a lab report?

Field tests provide quick answers. But if those answers and confessions cannot be trusted, Charles McClelland, the former Houston police chief, says, officers should not be using them. During an interview in March, McClelland said that if he had known of the false positives Houston’s officers were generating, he would have ordered a halt to all field testing departmentwide. Police officers are not chemists, McClelland said. “Officers shouldn’t collect and test their own evidence, period. I don’t care whether that’s cocaine, blood, hair.”

Another question, posed by former Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, is why do we allow the folks who want to arrest someone to run the test that determines if someone gets arrested? Shouldn't that testing be done by someone who is (nominally) not a part of the police department?

Yet another question is why we continue to charge people who possess trace amounts of drugs with felony offenses?

This is reality for a sizable portion of the population yet you will never hear a politician talking about how innocent people get caught up in our criminal (in)justice system. You will never hear then talk about the gross inequities in how different people are treated. Instead you will hear nothing but the common platitudes of those who claim to be tough on crime in order to please white suburbanites whose idea of a colorblind society is an all-white neighborhood.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Reasonable Doubt 7/7/2016

This past Thursday I had the honor of being back on HCCLA's Reasonable Doubt television show. We talked about the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal and police shootings.

In case you missed it, here's the show...

Friday, July 8, 2016

Vacation or jail?

After the events of the last few days it's time to end the double-standard in our criminal (in)justice system that we don't talk enough about.

In Dallas last night, five police officers were killed by sniper fire and another six were wounded and taken to the hospital. There was a manhunt. Three suspects were taken into custody and a fourth was found dead - apparently by a self-inflicted gun wound. These men will be placed in the Dallas County Jail. They will be charged with capital murder. Prosecutors will ask that the judge deny them bond - and the judge will acquiesce. They will sit in jail until their cases are disposed of.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana and just outside St. Paul, Minnesota, police officers murdered black men. In Baton Rouge officers tased and tackled Alton Sterling before shooting him multiple times in the chest and back. In Falcon Heights, Minnesota, Philando Castile was pulled over for having a cracked tail light. After Mr. Castile told the officer he was licensed to carry a gun and was carrying a gun, the officer opened fire and murdered Mr. Castile in front of his girlfriend and his 4-year-old daughter.

Are the police officers in jail? Are they facing charges?


They are all on paid administrative leave.

There is no justice. If you kill a police officer the entire weight of the criminal (in)justice system will come down on you; but, if you are a police officer and you kill a black man, you go on vacation.

And you wonder why this shit continues.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

More breath test shenanigans

If you have been a long time follower of this blog the name Dee Wallace should ring a bell. She was the technical supervisor in charge of breath test machines in the Houston area who faked test and calibration data.

Now there's a new name to add to the Forensic Hall of Shame. Let's say hello to Marianela Martinez, late of the League City Police Department. It seems that Ms. Martinez had a contract to oversee the breath test programs in League City and several other small towns in southern Harris County and in Galveston County. It would also appear that Ms. Martinez also participated in creative maintenance of breath test machines.

Ms. Martinez was fired last month for unsatisfactory job performance. In a detailed write-up, the Chief of Police for League City, Michael Kramm, set forth a laundry list of problems with Ms. Martinez' job performance over the years. Interestingly enough, Ms. Martinez received excellent mark-ups in her annual job evaluations - even though she was doing piss poor when it came to audits of her work from the State of Texas.

According to Mr. Kramm

"Documentation from State auditors and regional supervisory staff demonstrated lengthy down time for instruments under the care and control of Martinez. Audit documentation demonstrated a pattern of poor time management, last minute inspections, poor record keeping, missing maintenance records and deficient hardware/technical knowledge on behalf of Martinez."

Ms. Martinez was afforded a great deal of latitude with respect to running the breath test program in League City. No one looked closely at DPS audits when it came time to reviewing her job performance. It wasn't until someone higher up the chain of command began looking into problems pointed out by the audits that anyone gave her performance a second thought.

In addition to her failure to maintain the breath test machines under her control, Ms. Martinez also failed to calibrate and prepare the new Intoxilyzer 9000 machines that were to be put into service in her area.

Keep in mind that the estimations from these machines were used in drunk driving prosecutions. We have no way of knowing whether any of the machines used to test those breath samples were in proper operating condition. We have no way of knowing whether they were properly maintained. And but for Ms. Martinez' bumbling inepitude with the roll out of the Intoxilyzer 9000, we might never have found out she wasn't doing the job she was supposed to be doing.

This is the problem with breath testing. These machines are placed under the control of persons who are rarely held accountable for what goes on under their watch. It's only years after a problem was discovered that we find out what went on behind the curtain.

This is the primary problem in leaving these forensic "tools" in the hands of the people who are doing the arresting. There is no accountability - until it's too late. There is a built in bias on the part of the folks who maintain these machines since they get their paychecks from the same agency that arrested the test subject in the first place.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Empty labels

In the early morning hours of June 12, forty-nine people were murdered in a nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine lives lost, at least forty-nine families shattered.

One of the questions left dangling is whether that deadly massacre was terrorism or a hate crime. The answer is neither.

There is no such thing as terrorism. In the West we use the term terrorism to describe the use of violence to achieve political aims. Interestingly enough, that term is only used to describe those actions by groups in opposition to our government or an allied government. It is a politically charged word used to rally people to a certain political position.

If there were a legitimate definition (outside the realm of politics) for terrorism then the United States would be the world's biggest sponsor of terrorism. The US dropped atomic bombs on two populated cities in Japan in August 1945 in an attempt to persuade the Japanese people to push their leaders to surrendering. The death and devastation caused by the bombings was the act of violence. The goal was to achieve the political aim of forcing Japan to surrender.

During the Cold War the United States supported right-wing dictators and trained right-wing death squads in Guatemala, Honduras, Argentina and Chile (as well as plenty of other places around the world). These dictators and their minions used violence to force compliance with political and economic policies that benefited big business.

Today the United States fires missiles and drops bombs in the Middle East killing scores of innocent people in order to achieve its political aims.

But no one in this country calls it terrorism.

Hate crime legislation in this country is unconstitutional. The First Amendment gives all of us the right to spew forth whatever appalling or objectional speech we wish - so long as we don't incite violence.

We will never know why Omar Mateen did what he did that day because he was killed during the incident. But it doesn't matter why he did it. If he were being tried for murder the only relevant question would be did he shoot those folks intentionally or not. Why he pulled the trigger isn't relevant to determining whether or not he is guilty.

The forty-nine victims are dead. And they will remain dead whether or not Mr. Mateen killed them because he hated them or not.

The purpose of our criminal (in)justice system is not to determine what someone was thinking at the time they committed a certain act, it's to determine whether or not that person had a certain culpable mental state at the time of the act. Did he act intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently? That should be the end of the inquiry.

Punishing someone for murder is one thing, punishing someone because of their constitutionally protected speech is something altogether different.