Another Non-Indictment

I can’t say I’m surprised the Long Island Jury failed to bring an indictment in the death of Eric Garner, but I was hoping otherwise. Given that the chokehold was captured on video, nobody can claim the eyewitness testimony was ambiguous. The death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, the cause of death was choking, and we had a video of how it was done, and yet the grand jury couldn’t indict?

There’s no excuse for this. But I can’t say I’m surprised.

See Charles Blow, “The Perfect Victim Pitfall.”

When Women Don’t Count

A couple of unrelated stories saying the same thing — first, following up yesterday’s post on how gun rights “trump” everything else these days, here’s a story from South Carolina about prosecutors who say “stand your ground” laws don’t apply to domestic violence situations.

In November 2012, Whitlee Jones fatally stabbed her partner, Eric Lee. She has testified that she did not mean to kill Lee when she issued the fatal wound, but that she only meant to fend him off while he blocked her from exiting the house with her belongings, attempting to leave him for good. The incident occurred just hours after Lee had punched Jones repeatedly and dragged her down the street by her hair.

People had witnessed Lee brutalizing Jones and called the police. Naturally, when the police showed up they talked only to Lee, who told them there was no problem. So the cops left. Brilliant. Shortly after the police left Jones tried to get out of the house, and she says he attacked her again, so she stabbed him. And he died, and now she is facing homicide charges.

And why doesn’t “stand your ground” apply to this situation?

But prosecutors say the 2006 SYG law does not apply to housemates in episodes of domestic violence, as that was not the legislation’s original purpose.

“[The Legislature’s] intent … was to provide law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers,” Assistant Solicitor Culver Kidd, the case’s lead prosecutor, told The Post and Courier. “We believe that applying the statute so that its reach into our homes and personal relationships is inconsistent with [its] wording and intent.”

So, in other words, stand your ground only applies if one is defending oneself from a stranger? On what planet does that make sense?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 1980 to 2008, among all homicide victims—

  • Females were more likely than males to be the victim of intimate killings (63.7%) and sex-related homicides (81.7%) .
  • Males were more likely to be involved in drug- (90.5%) and gang-related homicides (94.6%).
  • Female murder victims (41.5%) were almost 6 times more likely than male murder victims (7.1%) to have been killed by an intimate.
  • More than half (56.4%) of male murder victims were killed by an acquaintance; another quarter (25.5%) were murdered by a stranger.

Self-defense laws that apply only to defending oneself from strangers are, therefore, self-evidently screwy even for men, but more so for women.  This same document says men represent 77 percent of homicide victims and 90 percent of perpetrators, but given that male homicides tend to be drug and gang related, it’s not clear to me what the stats are regarding men not involved in gangs and drugs, and that’s something I’d be curious to know.

Even so, it seems to me a lot of white Americans are obsessed with unreasonable fear of the “other,” whether of brown Guatemalan toddlers sneaking across the Rio Grande or drug-crazed black people breaking into their homes and killing them. I actually couldn’t find authoritative data on how common it is for armed criminals of any color to break into homes while the occupants were inside. Burglaries are common, of course, but burglars prefer it if the homeowners are not home.

A lot of men also have a hard time accepting the fact that most rapes are not, in fact, perpetrated by strangers lurking in dark alleys but by men the victim knows.  Conservative men in particular will denounce rape in the abstract but defend it in the particular, especially when the accused seems like such a regular guy. And they nearly always seem like such regular guys.

But the point is that, if the prosecutors are right, then South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law was written to address threats that probably don’t actually happen that often to real law-abiding citizens, but it doesn’t apply to the ways people really are threatened, especially women.  Again, brilliant.

The other story showing that women are still a variation from the default norm in America comes from the sharp-eyed Josh Marshall.

For years there was a constant refrain in American politics which would speak of two electorates, even two elections: election results among white people and then the results when you counted the votes of black people. There were more denigrating and racist versions of this talk. But the most revealing were the versions that weren’t consciously racist at all. They were at their peak of popularity in the 80s and 90s and went something like this: “Democrats haven’t won the white vote in decades. Without blacks, they’d barely be holding on as a national party.”

There were various permutations of this refrain. But, as I’ve discussed before, all carried with them the tacit assumption that black votes, while legal, were somehow a second-rate product in the grand economy of voting.

We’ve come a long way, baby, or not —

I raise this history because we seem to be seeing a similar trend in attacks upon or diminishment of single women. Last week long-shot New Jersey Senate candidate Jeff Bell noted that he’d actually be ahead if not for single women. He then went on to blame his opponent’s double digit margin on single women and single mothers who vote Democratic because they are “wed” to the social safety net and “need benefits to survive.”

Josh goes on to quote other voices of the Right, including Rushbo, saying variations of the same thing. And of course the reason there is a gender gap is that there are women voters who, sensibly, vote according to their self-interests, whether for equal pay or reproduction rights or protection from domestic violence, and Democrats overwhelmingly support such things while Republicans overwhelmingly oppose them. And why might single mothers be more concerned about the social safety net, pray tell?

Every now and then I still run into men who actually cannot understand why gender and racial diversity is a good thing in a governing body. Why can’t a legislature or board of directors made up almost entirely by white men make perfectly sound and reasonable policies that apply to everybody?

Because so often they don’t, that’s why.

Ferguson Updates

Right-wing police brutality apologists, plus the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, have been trying to get Michael Brown’s juvenile police record released. The “apologists” were certain Brown had a substantial criminal record as a juvenile, and one conservative “journalist” had widely published a “confirmed report” that the record included an arrest related to second degree murder for which Brown was still facing charges when he was killed.

No record has been released — we don’t know for a fact there is one, actually — but yesterday an official of the St. Louis County Circuit Court released a statement saying that Brown had no convictions of either a Class-A or Class-B felony as a juvenile, nor was he facing any such charges at the time of his death. So no second degree murder charge.

Naturally that cesspool of moral depravity known as “Jim Hoft” turned this statement into an implication that Brown had a record of misdemeanors. One would expect nothing more from Hoft. Of course, in a place where one can be gunned down for jaywalking, misdemeanors might include unauthorized bird watching or the public consumption of toast.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department announced it has begun a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson police department.

Attitude Adjustments and Police

It’s a beautiful day in the Mahaneighborhood, and this morning I walked to the salon down the street for a long-overdue haircut.  And while I was there I listened to a salon full of middle-class mostly white and Latina ladies talk about an accident someone had had recently.  A speeding cop car, no siren, had struck the car of one of the ladies’ friends, shoving the car some distance and spinning it around. The friend was injured, although she will recover.

One woman in the salon saw the whole thing. And then she watched while the cops canvassed the neighborhood looking for people who would swear they heard the siren going, even though it wasn’t. They were building a case to exonerate the cop, not investigating what happened. And the interesting part of this, to me, was that all of these middle-class mostly white and Latina ladies agreed that the police were out of control and couldn’t be trusted.

I realize that a big chunk of the white middle class will still automatically side with cops. And I realize I have only anecdotal evidence that anything has changed. But I do think I’m seeing some shift in attitude toward the police around here on the part of white people, especially compared to the glory days of Mayor Giuliani back in the 1990s.

Not a day goes by I don’t see two or three fresh examples of police overreach from all around America. Today’s outrage, btw, is about the arrest of a black man sitting in a public space waiting for his children to be let out of school.

Of course, lots of people in social and news media are still trying to spin events in Ferguson to exonerate Officer Wilson. The standard trajectory of these arguments is that we shouldn’t rush to judgment regarding Wilson (agree) and, anyway, Michael Brown was a thug who had just robbed a convenience store and Wilson didn’t have a choice but to shoot him. Um, who’s rushing to judgment, again?

All kinds of stuff could have happened in Ferguson, but the only facts everyone seems to agree on is that two young and unarmed black men were walking in the street of their own residential neighborhood, had an encounter with Officer Wilson, and somehow this escalated into a shooting that killed one of the young men, which is self-evidently screwy. Beyond that, the police have one story and eyewitnesses have another.

Even if Wilson is exonerated of blame for the shooting, seems to me he’s still got some ‘splainin’ to do about why a jaywalking incident got  so out of control.  Whatever happened at the convenience store — which is not entirely clear –  is a red herring. The store owner made no complaint to police; Wilson could not have known about it.

The other part of this story that is beyond dispute is that since the shooting Ferguson and Saint Louis police have behaved horribly. They’ve put every possible foot wrong. See, for example, Michael Brown’s Body and Michael Brown’s Mom Laid Flowers Where He Was Shot — and Police Crushed Them. Since justice will likely be determined by forensics I sincerely hope the Justice Department at least keeps an eye on this, because if the investigation and possible prosecution are left to the local crew, they might as well not bother. Yeah, okay, #notallcops but it’s sure as heck #alotofcops.

What a change camera phones have made, eh? U.S. police departments need to realize the days when they could get away with whatever are coming to a close. Time for an attitude adjustment, folks.

Kimberlin Update

I learned from R.S. McCain — blogging from an undisclosed location, I assume — that there will be a court hearing Tuesday regarding a peace order requested by Brett Kimberlin (background) against one of the rightie bloggers he allegedly has been terrorizing. I take it a “peace order” is something like a restraining order.

The part of McCain’s post that jumped out at me was the claim that Kimberlin’s alleged attempts at terrorism were intended “to suppress the truth about his violent criminal past.” This is the same criminal past prominently discussed in a 2007 Time magazine article.

In the belly of the voting-reform movement is a man who personifies this paradoxical lack of credibility in the service of a credible cause. Brett Kimberlin was convicted in 1981 of a series of bombings in Indiana. By his own account, he dealt “many, many tons” of marijuana in the 1970s. Most famously, he is the man who from his prison cell alleged that as a law student Dan Quayle bought marijuana from him. Quayle repeatedly denied the charge, and it was never substantiated. In e-mails and Web postings from Kimberlin’s two organizations, Justice Through Music and Velvet Revolution, he intersperses occasionally useful pieces of information about the problems of e-voting with a hefty portion of bunk, repeatedly asserting as fact things that are not true. Kimberlin, in short, is an unlikely candidate to affect an important issue of public policy.

So the criminal record wasn’t exactly hidden.

Time goes on to say that Kimberlin had been instrumental in the movement to stop Diebold electronic voting machines from being used in elections, and that Brad Friedman (of BradBlog) and Kimberlin had co-founded a “netroots voting-reform website”

Kimberlin may very well be as unhinged and dangerous as the righties are making him out to be. Or not. I don’t know the man at all. I haven’t seen anyone on the left blogosphere speak up for him, including Brad Friedman. This suggests that either he isn’t that well known in blogging circles (again, I don’t recall I’d ever heard of him) or that those who know him think he may be guilty as accused.

However, I noticed that commenters have been calling out Friedman’s alleged ties to Kimberlin for several years. For example, this is from 2008:

Search engine for Brett Kimberlin. Why no story on him, Brad? You don’t want your readers to know you are partners with a bomber and admitted drug dealer? He even had his own little tinfoil 15 minutes of fame when he said he used to deal pot to Dan Quayle.

This all suggests to me there was nothing hidden about Kimberlin’s criminal record. After Kimberlin was paroled in 1994 and until the current accusations against him there’s no indication I could find that he was doing anything illegal, which begs the question why it was so all-fired important to stir up hysteria about Kimberlin in 2012.

And the answer is that he got involved in leftie political movements and organizations, which means he can be connected by association to all kinds of people on the Left who hadn’t done anything wrong.

Essentially Breitbart et al. were waging a defamation campaign against anyone who could be tied to Kimberlin, directly or indirectly, through any leftie organization he was associated with. This is right out of Joe McCarthy’s old playbook and a blatantly unethical thing to do. It doesn’t justify violent retribution, but it certainly isn’t blameless.

Two other names that keep coming up in the word-salad ravings are Ron Brynaert and Neal Rauhauser. Google their names and you get page after page of right-wing blog posts accusing these two of terrorism and attempted murder (example). Otherwise, I have no idea who these guys are and what the evidence is against them. [Update: It appears that last November Rauhauser was promoting the Occupy movement.] They may indeed be very dangerous guys, or they may have done nothing more than speak up for Kimberlin. It’s a mystery to me.

But this all begs the question why these alleged terrorists’ victims are not the ones seeking restraining orders against Kimberlin et al. instead of the other way around, and why the criminal justice system isn’t being otherwise called upon to investigate and prosecute the alleged perpetrators and protect the allegedly innocent. Lynch mobs, even virtual ones, make me queasy.

The Grand Jury Decision: Something That Means Nothing

I wasn’t going to write anything about the decision to not take the Martin-Zimmerman case to a grand jury, because it doesn’t mean anything. But yesterday I kept running into people on the Web who were wailing that it meant the prosecutor will let Zimmerman walk. No, it just means she’s not going to seek a death penalty.

But then this morning I read this, by Tim F. at Balloon Juice:

It seems likely that George Zimmerman will walk for shooting an unarmed teenager. The special prosecutor has more or less thrown up her hands and I can hardly blame her, caught between that stupid law and the absolute hash that Sanford PD made of their initial response. That, at least, might go punished. I have some hope that the Federal investigation into their department will at least shame the Sanford PD into doing a better job next time

I would have just left a comment at Balloon Juice, but I seem to be on the twit filter there as none of my comments ever show up on the threads. So here goes — grand juries are only required in Florida in capital murder cases. The prosecutor doesn’t need a grand jury to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. Further, I’ve read this particular prosecutor, Angela Corey, has a history of not bothering with grand juries when the law does not require them. Her decision to not use a grand jury doesn’t tell us anything about where she might be headed, one way or another.

But a grand jury outcome would have been unpredictable, and it’s also my understanding that Trayvon Martin’s family had preferred the case not go to a grand jury.

My understanding is that the original prosecutor — the one who was trying to sweep it all under the rug — scheduled a grand jury after the public outcry began. No doubt he thought dumping the case on a grand jury would take the heat off him. No doubt it didn’t work.

In other Zimmerman news, it appears the Zimmerman family has put up a website soliciting donations for Zimmerman’s defense and featuring a photograph of the vandalized black cultural center at Ohio State University (click to enlarge):

click to enlarge

Charles Johnson asks, “Could Zimmerman really be this dumb?” That would be my guess, yes.

Speaking of dumb, alleged pastor Terry “Islam Is of the Devil” Jones, who likes to draw attention to himself by pulling stupid Koran-burning stunts to get U.S. troops killed, led a rally in support of Zimmerman. (“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” — Matthew 7:20, King James Bible)

Police and Cover-ups

What can one say but … Charles Pierce. This happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina:

One of the things that the country looked at briefly, and then determined that it would look upon it no longer, because what it meant was that the country’s anesthetic lies had lost their potency, occurred on September 4, 2005 on the Danziger Bridge, which carries US-90 (Thanks commenter Bobby Dupont.) across the city’s Industrial Canal. That night, a group of lawless New Orleans Police, all pretense of maintaining civic order literally thrown to the winds, rolled up in a Budget rental truck on a group of citizens who had taken shelter behind some concrete barriers near the bridge and committed an act of unimaginable official terrorism. The cops leaped from the truck and opened fire. Officer Robert Faulcon blew away with a shotgun blast one Ronald Madison, Jr., a 40-year old mentally-challenged man. Faulcon shot Madison in the back. Sgt. Kenneth Bowen jumped out of the front seat of the truck and sprayed the area with an AK-47. Sgt. Robert Gisevius, Jr. jumped out of the back of the truck and opened up with an M-4, while Anthony Villavaso II let go with his own AK. Somewhere in the storm of bullets, another man named James Brissette was killed, too. Four others were wounded.

After the shooting, the cops concocted a plan to cover up what they did. A sergeant named Archie Kaufman, the lead police investigator into the events at the bridge, helped them do it. Evidence was faked. Fraudulent reports were filed. Most of this barbering was done to further the notion that the police had been under fire, in deadly danger, and that the fusillade was unleashed in self-defense against a mob from a city that had become barbarous.

But the Trayvon Martin shooting was an anomaly! And hoodies!

The NOLA police involved were all found guilty, eventually, and this week they were sentenced. Almost seven years later.

Going back and reading earlier stories of the incident, there really is a resemblance to the aftermath of the Trayvn Martin shooting. There was a claim the shooting was in self-defense (later found to be bogus); little care was taken to collect or or preserve evidence properly; the local police seemed to have no interest in investigating or prosecuting anyone.

A state grand jury brought indictments two years after the shooting. The FBI was called in and were still investigating five years after the shooting.

I certainly don’t think all police are capable of this, but … anomaly, my ass. This shows us why it is not at all unreasonable to suspect a police cover up whenever white on black violence goes unprosecuted.

This is from last year’s trial testimony, btw:

After the barrage of bullets stopped, while Susan Bartholomew was lying on a concrete walkway of the Danziger Bridge, the men shooting at Bartholomew’s family ordered her to raise her hands.

But Bartholomew recalled realizing that would be impossible.

“I couldn’t do it, because my arm was shot off,” she said softly. “I raised the only hand I had.”

The good news is that most of the perps got long prison sentences. The bad news s we haven’t seemed to learn anything.

Trayvon Martin Police Reports Bogus?

Something else that’s been eating at me about the Martin-Zimmerman case — this is from a March 13 ABC News report

Witnesses told ABC News they heard Zimmerman pronounce aloud to the breathless residents watching the violence unfold “it was self-defense,” and place the gun on the ground.

But after the shooting, a source inside the police department told ABC News that a narcotics detective and not a homicide detective first approached Zimmerman. The detective peppered Zimmerman with questions, the source said, rather than allow Zimmerman to tell his story. Questions can lead a witness, the source said.

Another officer corrected a witness after she told him that she heard the teen cry for help.

The officer told the witness, a long-time teacher, it was Zimmerman who cried for help, said the witness. ABC News has spoken to the teacher and she confirmed that the officer corrected her when she said she heard the teenager shout for help.

In other words, the police were helpfully telling people what their testimony was supposed to be. And then a few days ago we heard this

A 13-year-old who is one of two key witnesses in the Trayvon Martin shooting felt “pressured” by cops to tailor what he saw, his mom told the Daily News Thursday.

The revelation comes as shooter George Zimmerman’s father went public with new claims, including that Trayvon told his son “you’re going to die tonight.”

Police in Sanford, Fla., have said that Austin Brown, who went out to walk his dog on Feb. 26 near where Trayvon was shot, saw Zimmerman lying in the grass crying for help just before the slaying.

But Austin’s mom, Cheryl Brown, told the News that when cops interviewed her son eight days after Trayvon’s death, he told them he saw only one person lying in the grass and he couldn’t tell who it was.

“He kept telling them he couldn’t see anything because it was too dark,” she said. “He said he couldn’t see the race or anything. He never saw a second person. ”

“Then they asked him if he saw what the man was wearing. They gave him a multiple choice question and gave him three colors. He said, ‘I think it was red.’”

Zimmerman, 28, was wearing a red and black jacket. Trayvon, 17, was wearing a grey hoodie.

“Knowing my son, I believe he felt pressured to give the color,” Brown said.

“He really couldn’t see anything,” she said. “I think when interviewing a 13 year old you don’t give them three options.”

You can find all kinds of research papers declaring that eyewitness testimony of crimes is enormously unreliable. Add police coaching the witnesses what they were supposed to say, and it adds up to testimony that has to be taken with a big grain of salt.

Booman presents an argument that one of the policemen at the scene, Timothy Smith, deliberately filed a false report to cover for Zimmerman. In particular, Booman thinks it was Smith who fabricated the story about Zimmerman’s nosebleed and soiled jacket. I don’t know that’s what happened, but it makes as much sense as anything else I’ve heard.

See also “It’s Not That Complicated,” “Time for the DOJ to Expand Investigation,” and “Biggest Dolt in the Universe: Tom Maguire.”

Voice Screaming for Help Was Not Zimmerman

Orlando Sentinel:

As the Trayvon Martin controversy splinters into a debate about self-defense, a central question remains: Who was heard crying for help on a 911 call in the moments before the teen was shot?

A leading expert in the field of forensic voice identification sought to answer that question by analyzing the recordings for the Orlando Sentinel.

His result: It was not George Zimmerman who called for help.

Tom Owen, forensic consultant for Owen Forensic Services LLC and chair emeritus for the American Board of Recorded Evidence, used voice identification software to rule out Zimmerman. Another expert contacted by the Sentinel, utilizing different techniques, came to the same conclusion.

Zimmerman claims self-defense in the shooting and told police he was the one screaming for help. But these experts say the evidence tells a different story.

Anyone want to review?

Counting down the nanoseconds before the right wing noise machine finds some excuse to dismiss the science …

Y’know, I can remember when conservatives screamed perpetually about how liberals made the criminal justice system soft on crime. We coddled criminals. We allowed bad guys to walk because of silly legal technicalities. Of course, there always was some selectivity about which criminals were to be coddled and which ones not.

But now we may look on in wonder — or derision, or anger, or whatever — at the turning of tables. Now liberals are asking the criminal justice system to get tough on the “doer,” and conservatives are making excuses for the shooter.

Funny how that works.

It’s the Police Inaction, Stupid

Righties have a congenital inability to get the point. The brain damaged Rich Lowry whines that lots of black people get shot without everyone on the Left making a Big Bleeping Deal about it. For example:

Last year, Charinez Jefferson, 17, was shot and killed on a Chicago street. “She begged the shooter not to shoot her because she was pregnant,” a pastor explained. The alleged assailant, Timothy Jones, 18, shot her in the head, chest and back after seeing her walking with a rival gang member. New York Times columnist Charles Blow did not write a column about Jefferson’s killing as a symbol of the perils of being a young black woman in America.

That was a terrible thing, yes. But you know what happened after that, Rich? The police went looking for her alleged killer. The following week, they found him and arrested him. He was charged with the murder and held without bond.

That’s why Charles Blow didn’t have to write a column about it, you bleeping idiot.

Compare/contrast to the murder of Trayvon Martin. A quickie timeline —

February 26 — Trayvon Martin is shot. His killer is questioned and released.

[cricket chirps]

March 13 — ABC News reports “questionable police conduct” regarding the shooting.

March 16 — Charles Blow column published; 911 tapes released.

By all appearances, if national media hadn’t started to get involved, the Sanford police would still have done not a dadblamed thing regarding this case. That’s why people got angry, Rich. You can check out a timeline at ABC News for more.

Lowry provides some more examples, and they are all very tragic, but he says nothing about how the police responded in each case. This detail seems insignificant to Rich. Then he says,

Everything about the Trayvon Martin case is a matter of contention. About this, though, there should be no doubt: If Martin had been shot by a black classmate, if he had been caught in a random crossfire, if he had looked at a gang member the wrong way, his death would have been relegated to the back pages of the local newspaper. Not a cause, not even a curiosity: Just another dead young black man. Nothing to see here. Please, move on.

Then going on about statistics about shootings perpetrated by African Americans, he says,

There is no comparable epidemic of half-Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteers like George Zimmerman shooting young black men.

Seriously, he said that. He thinks the only reason this case is a big deal is that the shooter was not black.

If Trayvon Martin was killed for walking while black, I’d say Lowry is guilty of writing while stupid. And bigoted. And being a whiny self-absorbed wingnut.