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Published: Wed, 22 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:10:38 -0400


Is That GIF You’re About to Post on Twitter a ‘Deadly Weapon’?

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:30:00 -0400

If a person can come to actual, physical harm by looking at a particular image, and you deliberately present such an image to that person knowing this could happen, can you be held criminally responsible? We're about to find out if animated images can be classified as "deadly weapons." Combative journalist Kurt Eichenwald, a loud critic of President Donald Trump and his supporters, went toe-to-toe with Tucker Carlson on Fox News back in December. As is normal in the state of social media these days, he found himself the focus of angry tweets from those who disagreed with him. But Eichenwald is also very open and has written about the fact that he is epileptic and susceptible to seizures. After the December appearance, Eichenwald claimed somebody tweeted to him a flashy animated GIF designed for the purpose of provoking a seizure. (It literally had the text "You deserve a seizure for your posts" on it). Furthermore, Eichenwald claimed that the GIF succeeded. The flashing colors prompted a seizure. After he recovered, he filed a criminal complaint in Texas in the hopes of tracking down the culprit. It looks like authorities have succeeded. A grand jury in Texas has indicted a Maryland man named John Rayne Rivello of "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon" for tweeting the offending GIF. And an FBI agent has filed a complaint accusing Rivello of violating federal cyberstalking laws. Let's, at least for the purposes of analyzing the underlying concerns with this case, set aside the politics and personalities involved. We need to do that because Eichenwald's behavior in the interview that prompted the "attack" was notably absurd—revolving around an unsubstantiated claim that Trump had been institutionalized in the 1990s. Whether Eichenwald is a person to be treated seriously shouldn't be the issue here. Is Rivello legally responsible if an image that never even physically comes into contact with Eichenwald triggers a harmful reaction? Even if Rivello was actually hoping a seizure would happen (and the evidence presented by the Justice Department, if true, suggests Rivello had actually investigated how to trigger an epileptic seizure)? NBC talked to a defense lawyer who hadn't heard of a similar case in the past: "I'm unaware of anybody being criminally prosecuted for this," defense attorney Tor Ekeland, who represents clients accused of federal cyber crimes, told NBC News. "If it's not the first time, it's one of the first times this has happened." Ekeland, who is not involved in the case, noted that Rivello is being charged with a federal cyberstalking law that is frequently the subject of criticism from First Amendment advocates. The law criminalizes using electronic communication "with the intent to kill, injure, harass, [or] intimidate" a victim, but it's typically used in relation to images (like revenge porn) or speech (like emailed death threats). What's likely unprecedented about this case is that Rivello's tweeted GIF is considered an assault weapon. "Here they're saying you used the internet as a weapon that causes physical harm," said Ekeland. "You're in different territory, because that's at least something you can have concrete testimony and evidence of, rather than squishy emotions and 'Gee, I felt bad.'" But there's still the matter than when you come at somebody with a knife, it's easy for prosecutors to make the case that you were obviously attempting to cause physical harm. The slippery slope here is that Rivello is potentially being held responsible for an unusual reaction to a stimulus that would normally be classified as speech, and only due to Eichenwald's particular medical condition. The prosecutors here want to make the easiest argument—that Rivello clearly intended to cause harm to Eichenwald, even if he didn't physically lay hands on him. But note Ekeland's comments about how cyberstalking laws, written vaguely for deliberate reason, are used by prosecutors in ways that stretch or even break the definitions. And clearly the same holds true for the definition of "assault with a deadly weapon.[...]

First ICE Report on Police Who Won’t Detain Immigrants Shows How Small the Problem Is

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 11:50:00 -0400

(image) As President Donald Trump ordered in the earliest days of his leadership, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released its first weekly list of law enforcement agencies that refuse to cooperate with orders to detain immigrants in the United States illegally.

ICE's first report covers people released by law enforcement agencies between January 28 and February 3, but the actual detainer requests can go back much longer, even several years. But of the 3,083 requests by ICE to detain immigrants and hand them over to the feds, only 206 requests were declined. And the majority of the refusals were concentrated in a handful of communities, particularly Travis County, Texas, home of Austin.

Furthermore, of those declined requests, slightly more than half the immigrants on the list are people who have only been charged with crimes and not yet convicted. And while some of the charged crimes are very serious and violent (there's a person charged with homicide in Philadelphia), ICE is also trying to detain and possibly deport people charged with much lesser crimes like prostitution and drug possession. They're even trying to get their hands on a Venezuelan in Florida convicted of a traffic violation.

It's also not clear how accurately we should treat the report. A section of the report lists all the law enforcement agencies in the country who have limits or restrictions on how much they cooperate with ICE on detaining and handing over immigrants. The New York Times notes that Nassau County in New York is listed among these agencies, but in fact the county's sheriff's office assures they're very, very cooperative with ICE. In Texas, Williamson County's sheriff said the same thing. He says the four people ICE claims they refuse to detain for them were actually moved to other jurisdictions that subsequently refused to cooperate.

It's the first report of its kind, so perhaps some kinks are to be expected. The numbers may also end up increasing, though it's not clear of the degree. The report introduction notes that law enforcement agencies don't often inform ICE that they're refusing the detainer request, so the report is based on what ICE employees are able to figure out for themselves. This could explain the Williamson County mistake. The report also notes that ICE had previously stopped sending detainer requests to law enforcement agencies with a history of non-cooperation. Under Trump's orders, ICE is going to start sending them requests again. The report notes, "As a result, the number of issued detainers will increase over the next several reporting periods."

So the number of refusals may increase, but that doesn't mean that there's a dramatic increase in crime caused by immigrants here illegally. Keep that in mind (and the fact that many people on the list have merely been charged) when examining future trend coverage of these reports. Evidence shows that immigrants are not major sources of criminal activity.

Read through the report yourself here. Note that a lot of the agencies listed as not cooperating aren't simply flat-out refusing to detain immigrants on ICE's demand. Many require a warrant or a court order of some sort.

Elected Florida Prosecutor Tries to Stop Using the Death Penalty, but Governor Won’t Have It

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 14:10:00 -0400

Aramis Ayala wasn't kidding when she ran and won a position as a prosecutor in Florida on a platform of criminal justice reform. And now she's making national news for refusing to ask for the death penalty in the case of a man charged with murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend and subsequently an Orlando police officer. Ayala represented a small number of new prosecutors representing a trend in 2016 of voters turning to candidates that offered a less harsh justice system and dumping some incumbents. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is not impressed with Ayala's decision, and even though the citizens of Osceola and Orange counties elected her, Scott is using his authority to move the case to another district and put it before another prosecutor. This came after she ignored his fully absurd demand that she recuse herself for not having the same position on the applicability of the death penalty as Scott's. The story has inevitably crystalized around the fact that Ayala will not call for the death penalty for a man who killed a police officer above anything else. From CNN: "[Ayala] has made it clear that she will not fight for justice and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case to State Attorney Brad King," Scott said. "These families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Markeith Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served." Earlier Thursday, Ayala said capital punishment in Florida had led to "chaos, uncertainty, and turmoil." She argued that evidence showed the death penalty was overly expensive, slow, inhumane and did not increase public safety. Ayala said after "extensive and painstaking thought and consideration," she determined that pursing the death penalty "is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice." "Some victims will support and some will surely oppose my decision," she said. "But I have learned that the death penalty traps many victims, families in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty, court hearings, appeals and waiting." To be very clear, because some of the coverage is a little ambiguous: Ayala is going to refuse to pursue the death penalty for any murder handled by her office. It's remarkable among prosecutors both for the political risk it opens up for Ayala but also for the fact that this isn't even a case where there's a lot of ambiguity that causes folks to question the application of the death penalty. This is the kind of case where people who are ambivalent about the death penalty are nevertheless likely to support Loyd's execution (assuming he's found guilty). Shooting a pregnant ex-girlfriend? Killing a cop execution-style and having it captured on video? The politically expedient thing for Ayala to do here would be to declare her personal opposition to the death penalty but ultimately allow the jury to decide. Though leaders and representatives of law enforcement are furious, Ayala is getting support from groups like Amnesty International and the NAACP. The political maneuvering from the governor's office, though, shows the challenge when prosecutors attempt to step back even just a slight bit in high-profile cases. Based on the facts of the case, it seems unlikely Loyd is ever going to see the outside of a prison again, ever. But just the prospect that Florida might not execute him as well is apparently too much for some people to countenance, even though the state's own death penalty has been temporarily suspended over constitutional issues.[...]

America 'Not the World's Lawgiver,' Justice Thomas Protests in 'Dracula' Sex-Trafficking Case

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:45:00 -0500

(image) America is "not the world's lawgiver" and can't punish non-citizens for activity committed abroad, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas opined Monday. Thomas was the only Justice who wanted to consider an appeal from a Jamaican man convicted in U.S. federal court of sex trafficking and ordered to pay restitution to an Australian woman for crimes that occurred in Australia.

The man, Damion Baston, was found guilty in 2014 of multiple federal counts of sex trafficking and money laundering. The case earned a lot of attention due to Baton's unusual persona: gold-plated fangs, eerie contact lenses, and a nickname—"Drac"—to match. Baston was accused of using intimidation and physical and psychological abuse to coerce women into prostitution in Florida and overseas, including in Australia and United Arab emirates, and ultimately sentenced to serve 27 years in federal prison and pay restitution totaling around $99,000 to three of the victims. He appealed.

In March 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the lower court's ruling in part. But it found that "the district court erred when it refused to award restitution to a victim of Baston's sex trafficking in Australia" because the activity too place outside the U.S. Thus, Baston was ordered by the 11th Circuit to pay $400,000 to the Australian woman, Katie Lang, who had accused Baston of forcing her into prostitution in her home country after the pair became romantically involved.

Baston then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the appeal, lawyers for Baston—a Jamaican national who had been deported from the U.S. once before and was traveling under a stolen identity—argued that American courts cannot compel non-citizens to pay restitution to other non-citizens for activity that occurred outside U.S. boundaries.

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear Baston's appeal. Justice Thomas' was the sole dissenter who thought the Court should take the case. "I am confident," wrote Thomas, that "whatever the correct interpretation of the foreign commerce power may be, it does not confer upon Congress a virtually plenary power over global economic activity."

While Baston might not be a "sympathetic" figure, the "principle involved" in his case is "fundamental," and thus worthy of reconsideration, wrote Thomas. "Taken to the limits of its logic, the consequences of the Court of Appeals' reasoning are startling. The Foreign Commerce Clause would permit Congress to regulate any economic activity anywhere in the world, so long as Congress had a rational basis to conclude that the activity has a substantial effect on commerce between this Nation and any other. Congress would be able not only to criminalize prostitution in Australia, but also to regulate working conditions in factories in China, pollution from powerplants in India, or agricultural methods on farms in France."

Decades of Exoneration Stats Show Blacks More Likely to Be Wrongfully Convicted

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 11:45:00 -0500

America saw another record year for the number of prisoners being exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science & Society, University of Michigan Law School, and Michigan State University College of Law. For 2016, 166 people were exonerated of crimes and released from prison, 52 of them for murder. Of all the exonerations, 70 cases involved official misconduct of some sort, and in 74 of the cases, convictions came from guilty pleas. And in 94 cases (also a record) it turned out that no actual crime occurred at all. These were mostly drug cases but also some child sex abuse cases. Most famously, the San Antonio Four, four women convicted in 1998 in a fabricated satanic child sex abuse ring scandal, were released in 2016 after it finally became clear the crimes never occurred. This year researchers decided to go back over its entire history of reporting exonerations dating back to 1989 to examine the role of race in wrongful convictions. It turns out it's a big role. Try to contain your surprise. The analysis focused on the three types of crimes that have, over time, produced the greatest number of exonerations in the registry: murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes. Here's some of their calculations from 27 years of data pulled from the study's executive summary: African Americans are only 13 percent of the American population but a majority of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated. They constitute 47 percent of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations. Innocent black people are about seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people. A major cause of the high number of black murder exonerations is the high homicide rate in the black community, the report notes, but obviously the innocent people are not responsible or contributors to the rate. Black prisoners who are convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers. African Americans imprisoned for murder are more likely to be innocent if they were convicted of killing white victims. Only about 15 percent of murders by African Americans have white victims, but 31 percent of innocent African-American murder exonerees were convicted of killing white people. The convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were 22 percent more likely to include misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants. Based on exonerations, a black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white sexual assault convict. The major factor for the disparity appears to be mistaken eyewitness identification by white victims. Assaults on white women by African-American men are a small minority of all sexual assaults in the United States, but they constitute half of sexual assaults with eyewitness misidentifications that led to exoneration. African-American sexual assault exonerees received much longer prison sentences than white sexual assault exonerees, and they spent on average almost four-and-a-half years longer in prison before exoneration. It appears that innocent black sexual assault defendants receive harsher sentences than whites if they are convicted, and then face greater resistance to exoneration even in cases in which they are ultimately released. African Americans are about five times as likely to go to prison for drug possession as whites—and judging from exonerations, innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people. Reminder: Despite what some people believe, stats show that blacks and whites use drugs at about the same rate. Blacks are more frequently stopped, searched, arrested, and convicted—including in cases in which they are innocent. Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared [...]

Arkansas Set to Execute Eight Inmates in 10 Days

Mon, 06 Mar 2017 11:11:00 -0500

(image) Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that eight death row inmates would be executed by lethal injection in a span of 10 days starting April 17, according to a report by CNN. The man are Bruce Earl Ward, Don William Davis, Ledelle Lee, Stacey Eugene Johnson, Jack Harold Jones, Marcel W. Williams, Kenneth D. Williams, and Jason F. Mcgehee. They will mark the first executions for the state, which was caught up in legal challenges, since 2005.

Attorneys for the eight inmates had previously asked a Pulaski County court to rule the state's lethal injection law unconstitutional, in part because it allows the names of the drug suppliers to be kept secret. The court initially ruled in their favor and stayed their executions, according to the Arkansas News, but the Arkansas Supreme Court later overturned that decision in a 4–3 vote.

The state's Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, recently requested that the high court clarify whether or not a stay on the executions was still in place. In a 5–2 order, the justices confirmed that it was no longer in effect, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the state court's ruling, per the CNN report. The state is now able to move forward with the executions.

The upcoming execution schedule is unprecedented, notes Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "No state has ever conducted eight executions over a 10 day period," he told CNN.

The Associated Press speculates that they were scheduled for such a short window because the state's supply of one of the lethal injection drugs, Midazolam, expires at the end of April. Arkansas has already run out of potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest upon injection, and has yet to acquire a new supply. Hutchinson has expressed confidence that a new supplier for the substance will be found in time.

Midazolam, used to render the inmate unconscious before the lethal injections are administered, has been at the center of recent controversy. The drug was used in the botched executions of Dennis McGuire in Ohio and Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, as documented in a December CNN exposé . In both instances, the inmates were not rendered fully unconscious and their deaths were not quick.

Critics of the Arkansas governor's plan argue that expediting the executions increases the risks that they will be botched as well. "To attempt eight executions with Midazolam -- including four multiple executions -- is unheard of and reckless," Dunham said to CNN.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, 1,446 people have been put to death in the U.S. as of January 31, 2017, according to a database compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Under Georgia Bill, Minors Could Be Tried As Adults for Assaulting Cops

Thu, 02 Mar 2017 15:45:00 -0500

Lawmakers in states across the country are pushing for "Blue Lives Matter" legislation. In that spirit, Georgia could soon make it much easier for juveniles who get into altercations with police to be tried and punished as adults. The state has recently seen several House and Senate bills introduced that would extend protections for law enforcement. The Back the Badge Act of 2017 rolls several such proposals into a single package; one of those is House Bill 116, which would allow district attorneys to try minors as adults if they're accused of aggravated assault with a firearm or aggravated battery against a public safety officer, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Georgia law currently says eight different charges can justify moving a juvenile up. The house bill, which was introduced by state Rep. Bert Reeves (R–Marietta), would increase that number. The bill was inspired by the shooting of Georgia police officer Scott Davis by a 15-year-old gang member, according to the AJC. The case started in juvenile court, and the judge denied the prosecutor's motion to try the teenage suspect as an adult. "Nobody understands how she came to this conclusion," Reeves told the newspaper. A spokesperson for the county district attorney's office said the judge felt that the minor was "amenable to juvenile treatment." Reeves apparently disagrees. "If you pull a gun on a cop or shoot at a cop, you've sailed beyond juvenile treatment," he said, per the AJC report. H.B. 116 passed the state House on Monday 130–36. It will move to the Senate despite objections from various criminal justice advocacy groups, including the Georgia Justice Project. The nonprofit organization argues that trying minors as adults is counterproductive, as it increases their chances of re-offending, according to a U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections report. "The weight of the research reviewing the public safety impact of sending youth to the adult corrections system has found that youth tried as adults are more likely to re-offend, even when controlling for offense background and other characteristics, than comparable youth retained in the juvenile system," the report reads. "Youth who are transferred from the juvenile court system to the adult criminal system are approximately 34 percent more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested for a violent or other crimes." The report says upward of 250,000 juveniles end up in adult criminal court every year. Every single state has some version of a transfer law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.[...]

Trump's Mythical Crackdown on Sex Trafficking

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 11:56:00 -0500

At, sex-crime victims' advocate and author Liz Crokin accuses the mainstream media of "ignoring Trump's sex trafficking busts." In Crokin's reality, "authorities have arrested an unprecedented number of sexual predators involved in child sex trafficking rings in the United States" since Donald Trump took office on January 20. "There have been a staggering 1,500-plus arrests in one short month; compare that to less than 400 sex trafficking-related arrests in 2014 according to the FBI," Crokin writes. This is, as Trump would put it, "fake news." Every part of it. For starters, the 2014 data she links to is far from a complete account of U.S. sex-trafficking arrests that year. It reflects incomplete state-level arrest numbers from just 26 U.S. states, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. It does not include all state sex-trafficking arrests, by far, nor does it include any sex trafficking arrests by federal agencies such as the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which make thousands of sex trafficking arrests annually (though far fewer trafficking indictments and convictions). The idea that there have been "an unprecedented number" of sex traffickers arrested since Trump took office has similarly little basis in reality, and there's zero truth to the claim of law-enforcement busting up child sex-trafficking rings. Meanwhile, many of the arrests Crokin includes in her tally—arrests that include mostly women selling sex and men trying to engage in consensual adult prostitution—are part of annual sting operations, were the result of investigations n the works long before Trump took office, and/or had absolutely nothing to do with federal law-enforcement directives or activities. (That is, when we can check Crokin's sources; two of the pages she links to as evidence can't be found.) Here are the arrests that Croklin credits as Donald Trump-brokered busts of pedophile trafficking rings: 478 people arrested in a statewide California sting that included zero sex-trafficking arrests, according to a press release from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. One-hundred and forty-two men were arrested for attempting to pay consenting adult women for sexual activity. Thirty-six men were arrested for pimping. The rest of those arrested—300 in total—were women taken in on prostitution charges or people in trouble for charges unrelated to commercial sexual activity. 178 men arrested in Texas for soliciting prostitution from an undercover cop posing as a consenting adult sex worker. The stings were part of a nationwide "Johns Suppression Initiative" organized annually by Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Tom Dart. Four "pimps" and 12 people arrested on unspecified charges during a month-long Detroit operation concluded two days after Trump took office. 11 people arrested as part of a "five-month cyber-sting operation led by the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office Child Exploitation Unit in partnership with the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force." The sting—a To Catch a Predator-style operation involving police posing online as a 13-year-old into older men—began in October 2016 and ended in early February. As evidence of these arrests that Crokin doesn't think are being covered in the mainstream media, she links to news reports on ABC, NBC, and CBS news affiliates, describing events also covered widely by other media in their respective states or regions. The California sting was also reported by mainstream print and broadcast media across the country, as was the broader National Johns Suppression Initiative that resulted in the Texas arrests.[...]

Arizona Bill to Crack Down on Rioters Could Be Used to Shut Down Protests

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 11:30:00 -0500

Rioting is illegal, even in Arizona, but some Republican senators there want to make it extra super illegal. And critics fear they're going to make it so illegal that it will result in people being charged with criminal conspiracy or racketeering (and risk having their property seized) just by participating in a protest where others might engage in violence. Democratic senators expressed such worries in a piece posted at Arizona Capital Times. They fear that if SB 1142 is made law, it will be used to find new ways to crack down on peaceful protesters by creating pretenses to connect them to troublemakers. The Republicans defending the law are turning to the conspiracy that all the violence is planned and paid for by outsiders as justification: By including rioting in racketeering laws, it actually permits police to arrest those who are planning events. And [Republican Sen. John] Kavanagh, a former police officer, said if there are organized groups, "I should certainly hope that our law enforcement people have some undercover people there.'' "Wouldn't you rather stop a riot before it starts?'' Kavanagh asked colleagues during debate. "Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?'' Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said the new criminal laws are necessary. "I have been heartsick with what's been going on in our country, what young people are being encouraged to do,'' she said. She agreed with Quezada that there already are laws that cover overt acts. But Allen said they don't work. "If they get thrown in jail, somebody pays to get them out,'' she said. "There has to be something to deter them from that.'' This seems a bit of a short-sighted approach, one Democratic legislator pointed out. The Republican senators are only perceiving the protesters as coming from the left and not considering the idea that this new crime classification could come back to haunt Tea Party type protesters if somebody decides to get violent at a protest. These senators also seem to be operating under the absurdly mistaken idea that violent agitators at protests are something brand new. Not mentioned in the Times story, but pointed out by Will Gaona, policy director for the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, on Twitter: Law enforcement unions are supporters of the legislation and are no doubt helping push it along. It will certainly make it easier for police to justify practices where they simply shut down and detain protesters without much consideration over who is actually engaging in destructive behavior. SB 1142 doesn't actually do a whole lot but simply add rioting to existing conspiracy and racketeering classifications and defines rioting thus: "A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which either disturbs the public peace or results in damage to the property of another person." The bill passed on a party live vote in the Senate, 17-13 and is heading over to the House.[...]

Trump Says U.S. Murder Rate at Highest Level in 45 Years. That’s Not Even Close to Being True

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 16:46:00 -0500

President Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed the murder rate in the United States is "the highest it's been in, I guess, 45-47 years." "I'd say that in a speech and everybody was surprised because the press doesn't like to tell it like it is," Trump said during a morning meeting with law enforcement officials from around the country. Yes, everyone should be surprised by that claim, but not for the reason the president suggested. They should be surprised because it is completely false. According to the FBI—which tracks crime statistics in the country, not "the media," as Trump suggested—the murder rate in the United States is near an all-time low. According to the FBI's 2015 crime report, there were 15,696 murders in the United States that year, which translates to a murder rate of 4.9 per 100,000 people. That's the highest murder rate in six years, not 45 years. In fact, even with the murder rate ticking upwards over the past two years, we are still at a level that's less than half of the peak murder rate during the past 45 years, according to the FBI's statistics, collected from more than 18,000 jurisdictions around the country. Here's the facts. Forty-seven years ago, in 1970, the murder rate was 7.9 per 100,000 people. The rate climbed steadily throughout the 1970s and reached a peak of 10.2 per 100,000 people in 1980. Murder rates dipped throughout the mid-1980s before rising again at the end of the decade to a second peak of 9.8 per 100,000 in 1991. From that second peak, the murder rate steadily declined until it reached a low point of 4.4 homicides per 100,000 people in 2014, before the uptick in 2015. Data for the full year of 2016 is not yet available, but statistics from the first half of 2016 suggest that the murder rate might have climbed again last year (though certainly not to levels that come anywhere near the peaks in 1980 and 1991). The slight increase in violent crime during 2015 can be attributed mostly to seven urban areas—Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.—that accounted for half of the national increase. It's not even true for Trump to argue that crime is increasing in cities, since only 25 of the nation's 100 largest cities saw an overall increase in violent crime in 2015, according to the FBI. It's not just the murder rate that has fallen recently. All forms of violent crime are down 19 percent, and property crime fell by 23 percent, between 2008 and 2015. Trump is wrong about this. Still, being wrong about crime has helped fuel Trump's rise from reality TV star to leader of the free world. At the Republican National Convention in July, Trump said the nation was experiencing "a moment of crisis" caused by "violence in our streets and chaos in our communities." "Crime is out of control and rapidly getting worse," he tweeted in July. And he's been spouting off about the murder rate being at a 45-year high since at least late October. "We have the highest murder rate in this country in 45 years. You don't hear that from these people. They don't want to talk about it. The highest murder rate in the United States in 45 years," he said at a rally in Iowa on October 28, according to The Washington Post. He repeated the assertion the next day at an event in Phoenix and the day after that at a rally in Las Vegas. As I wrote last week, many voters seem to share this misguided view that crime is reaching record levels. Polling data from Democracy Fund Voice, a nonpartisan organization that conducted a series of polls and sit-down interviews with voters during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, shows that 63 percent of all voters The numbers for people believing crime and believe crime is getting worse, while only 14 percent say it's getting better. Among self-identified Trump supporters, the gap wa[...]

Trump Is Wrong About Crime in Chicago (and His Voters Are Wrong About Crime Everywhere Else Too)

Thu, 26 Jan 2017 15:32:00 -0500

Amid a flurry of executive orders this week, President Donald Trump has been threatening to take some sort of federal action intended to curb violence in Chicago. It started Wednesday, when Trump tweeted that he would "send in the Feds" if law enforcement in Chicago "doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' going on." If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible "carnage" going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017 Trump was asked about that tweet during Wednesday's interview with ABC News' David Muir, who asked the president to clarify what he meant by "send in the feds." After first indulging his newfound fascination with the word "carnage" (an actual quote from the interview: "It's carnage. You know, in my speech I got tremendous—from certain people the word carnage. It is carnage. It's horrible carnage"), Trump responded with another vague promise, or threat, of federal law enforcement action in the Windy City. "I want them to fix the problem. You can't have thousands of people being shot in a city, in a country that I happen to be president of," Trump said, adding that "maybe it's okay if somebody else is president" and imploring the city's officials to "get tougher and stronger and smarter" but without really answering the question of what federal action he would propose. Without wanting to downplay the seriousness of the violence in Chicago, it's necessary to inject some facts into all this talk of "tougher and stronger" policies, especially if Trump really is considering some sort of federal intervention in Chicago. For starters, yes, there are a lot of murders in Chicago. More than 300 of them during the first half of 2016, according to newly released data from the FBI. But there's also a lot of people in Chicago, which means that the murder rate actually is not one of the worst in the country. That dishonor, at least for the first six months of 2016, belongs to St. Louis, Missouri, which had more than 27 murders for every 100,000 residents during that time. That's more than double Chicago's murder rate of 11.6 per 100,000 residents. Both Orlando, Florida, and Baltimore, Maryland, had rates above 20-per-100,000 during the same period, the FBI data shows. Yes, Chicago is a violent city, but it's hardly a unique case requiring a unique response. Further, "the feds" are already there. As Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, pointed out in a commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago's police department already works with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on a regular basis. Is Trump talking about sending in the National Guard? That would be unprecendented and, MacDonald says, a pretty terrible idea. "Doing so would require the declaration of a national or state emergency," she writes. "However gruesome the bloodshed, there is little precedent for mobilizing the National Guard to quell criminal gang violence." Trump is wrong about the level of violance in Chicago, but all his talk of "carnage" and "tougher" law enforcement responses feeds directly into his political base and their view of the world. Unfortunately, that view is as wrong as Trump's. I attended a fascinating forum at the Cato Institute on Wednesday evening that included a discussion of polling data from Democracy Fund Voice, a nonpartisan organization that conducted a series of polls and sit-down interviews with voters during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Their polling data shows interesting divides between Trump voters and non-Trump voters on several issues, including immigration, race, and general views of American society. It's potentially helpful as policymakers on all sides attem[...]

Trump’s Chicago Crime Slams: Political Posturing, Federal Overreach, or Legit Assistance?

Wed, 25 Jan 2017 12:00:00 -0500

There's plenty of chin-scratching today about President Donald Trump's tweet last night, "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!" The feds are already involved in Chicago's crime-fighting efforts. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives have agents there attempting to track and fight illegal arms trafficking in the city. And more recently, the Department of Justice has released a massive report detailing unconstitutional behavior and civil rights violations by the City of Chicago's police department. But of course, that's not what Trump is talking about. Trump has made it abundantly clear that whatever is causing Chicago's crime problems, it has nothing to do with police abuse or violent police behavior. He instead sees a "dangerous anti-police atmosphere" in America and is promising to stop it. There's also an element of Trump's thin-skinned nature coming to the surface here. Sure, Trump has been running as a "law and order" candidate all along and has a page devoted to law enforcement on the White House site. But on Monday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel used a ribbon-cutting to attack Trump's obsession with crowd sizes. Clearly Trump's tweet was a response. From the Chicago Sun Times: "You didn't get elected to debate the crowd size at your inaugural....You got elected to make sure that people have a job, that the economy continues to grow, people have security as it relates to their kids' education. It wasn't about your crowd size. It was about their lives and their jobs," the mayor said after cutting the ribbon at a domestic violence shelter in Uptown. Emanuel advised Trump to do what he did while working as a political operative for former President Bill Clinton and as former President Barack Obama's first White House chief of staff. "The most important thing you can do is create a relationship between the desk in the Oval Office and the issues at the kitchen table," Emanuel said. "And I don't think in the kitchen tables of America — and I definitely can tell you on Saturday at the parade — people were not talking about the crowd size on Friday. They were talking about jobs, education, health care, security." But Emanuel himself was responding defensively to Trump invoking Chicago as a hotbed of crime and violence. There's a political spitting match going on here, which helps explain why we don't really know what Trump means when he talks about sending in the feds. And Chicago isn't even necessarily opposed. They certainly want federal money. The city's finances are a disaster area within a state that is itself a financial disaster area. An infusion of federal cash would pay for more police officers (to satisfy the public) and more "training," which tends to be the urban left's idea of the source of police abuse problems. It's just like public education, where whenever anything goes wrong, the problem is not enough money and training. (See the Department of Justice's plan to fix Baltimore's policing problems.) The rest of us who aren't posturing politicians who have to live in these environments should be concerned that each side is beating the same drum over and over again. Emanuel wants to blame the problem on access to guns, despite Chicago's infamously restrictive regulations. Trump wants to blame it on "anti-police" attitudes, despite the city's deeply entrenched and widely understood abusive and secretive behavior by its law enforcement officers. He's in favor of "stop and frisk" methods that violate citizens' Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unwarranted searches. Neither seem all that interested in these exchanges in exploring how the city's failure to hold bad police officers accountable f[...]

Slenderman Documentary Unpacks Disturbing Teen Murder Attempt

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:15:00 -0500

Beware the Slenderman. HBO. Monday, January 23, 10 p.m. Riverdale. The CW. Thursday, January 26, 9 p.m. Kids these days! Remember the good old days when the worst trouble a mischievous child could get into was maybe joining a killer sex cult or blowing herself up in a Greenwich Village bomb factory? Well, television this week is full of evidence that Dennis the Menace has left the building, probably armed with a hatchet and a pocket full of strap-ons. Actually, HBO's documentary Beware the Slenderman doesn't deserve such a flippant introduction. It's a serious—and seriously disturbing—piece of work about a pair of 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who, inspired by a creepy internet meme, lured a friend into the woods after a birthday party and stabbed her 19 times. That she survived was no fault of theirs. The news of that 2014 attack on 12-year-old Payton Leutner by her supposed friends Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier was, for most American grown-ups, the first word they'd heard of Slenderman, a lanky, faceless character who for the past five years had been haunting Internet chatboards and campfire-story sites. In the beginning, Slenderman was nothing more than a shadowy and curiously disquieting image, digitally inserted into the periphery of family snapshots, usually eyeing or surrounded by children. But as he grew into a fad, inspiring fan fiction, homemade video games and a slew of "found-footage" videos modeled after The Blair Witch Project, the Slenderman myth acquired its own canon. He was said to abduct and murder little children in ominously unspecified ways. The victims were often unloved or neglected kids, giving the killings a somehow even more chilling penumbra of mercy. Slenderman was able to multiply his damage many times over by acquiring proxies, cult members to do his work. And practically anybody might be swept up in his machinations, as victim, proxy or both. "The moment you know about him, he knows about you," explains one Slenderman expert interviewed in Beware. Like millions of other kids, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier became fascinated by all things Slenderman. But unlike all the rest, they had trouble comprehending that he was imaginary. Perhaps social isolation was part of it; neither girl had many friends. (Though that begs the question, why turn on one of their few schoolmates who was a pal.) In any event, they plotted to qualify as proxies by murdering Peyton and fleeing to Slenderman's hidden kingdom in a nearby national park. In harrowingly matter-of-fact confessions to police later, they described how they first tried to convince their victim to go to sleep to avoid unnecessary confusion and noise. ("I don't like screaming," Anissa primly declared to the cops. "That's one thing I can't handle.") When that didn't work, they banged her head against the wall of a park restroom in an attempt to knock her unconscious. Finally they jumped her from behind ("like lionesses chasing down a zebra," bragged Anissa) and Morgan stabbed her 19 times. "I trusted you," murmured Peyton as they dragged her into the bushes to die. Which, miraculously, she didn't. Despite its title, Beware the Slenderman is not a call to moral panic. Writer-director Irene Taylor Brodsky, a CBS News producer before she turned to documentaries a decade ago, steers clear of both tabloid shrieking and babble. Neither the internet nor horror culture is demonized as an assassin of juvenile morality. Morgan's mother, noting that at the same age she was a big fan of Stephen King's It, a novel in which a group of children is terrorized by a killer clown, says she was aware of her daughter's fascination with Slenderman but thought nothing of it: "We never thought for a moment that she could believe that it's real." [...]

Brickbat: Traffic Jam

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The city of Aurora, Colorado, has agreed to pay $325,000 to 14 people detained at an intersection while cops searched for a bank robber. A tracking device placed in the money by the bank led police to the intersection, but they could not determine which vehicle it was in. So they detained everyone at the intersection. Several of those filing the lawsuit were handcuffed and held for two hours.

The Surprising Truth About Gun Silencers

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:01:00 -0500

In The Godfather, a Mafioso prepping young Michael Corleone to assassinate some rivals gives him a pistol for the job. After firing a bullet into the wall, Michael complains, "Ow! My ears!" His friend says, "Yeah, I left it noisy. That way, it scares any pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders away." The Corleones would have had little interest in a bill allowing gun owners to obtain silencers without the federal permits required since 1934. Some people like the deafening boom of a gunshot. Most shooters don't, and the National Rifle Association is pressing for enactment of the Hearing Protection Act, which also has the endorsement of Donald Trump Jr., an avid trophy hunter. The proposal horrifies gun control advocates, who see it as a favor to homicidal maniacs. The Violence Policy Center in Washington argues that silencers pose a grave danger to public safety because they "enable mass shooters and other murderers to kill a greater number of victims more efficiently." Some perspective is in order. Right now, getting a federal permit requires a $200 fee, an extensive background check and a wait of several months. Possession of a silencer without a permit is a felony that carries a 10-year prison sentence. Under the proposed change, silencers would be treated like ordinary guns. Criminals would be ineligible, since they can't pass the required federal background check for purchases. Only law-abiding adults would have legal access. The industry prefers the term "suppressor" because the devices don't eliminate the noise; they merely diminish it. The American Suppressor Association attests, "On average, suppressors reduce the noise of a gunshot by 20-35 decibels, roughly the same sound reduction as earplugs or earmuffs." A shot from a 9 mm pistol equipped with a silencer is about as loud as a thunderclap. Recreational shooters and hunters would like to have silencers because they don't want to damage their hearing but dislike using ear protection. If the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had been around in the 1930s, gun rights lawyer Stephen Halbrook quipped to The Washington Post, it probably would have mandated their use. Silencers also reduce the recoil and improve the accuracy of guns. For the average gun owner, there is no downside. There are collateral benefits, too. In rural and unincorporated areas where shooting is allowed, they minimize the disturbance to neighbors and wildlife. It's not hard to imagine how they could be deployed for bad purposes. Yet there are some 900,000 registered silencers in this country, and they are rarely used in crimes. Chicago has a lot of bloodshed, including 762 homicides and more than 3,500 shootings last year, but silencers figure in little or any of it. Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, told me, "We seldom recover silencers. Sometimes you may get a gun with a makeshift silencer, but even that is rare." A report last year by the VPC cites a handful of shootings in which silencers were used. But the paucity of examples confirms that they are not of great interest to criminals. An earlier study by Paul A. Clark published in the Western Criminology Review found only two federal court cases involving the use of a silencer in a murder between 1995 and 2005. He also unearthed eight cases in which "a silencer was actively used during commission of a crime but not used to physically injure anyone." That works out to one serious silencer-related crime per year, in a country that in 2005 had 16,740 homicides and 417,000 robberies. Supporters of the status quo say this merely proves the effectiveness of strict regulation. But improvised versions can be fashioned out of flashligh[...]