Published: Fri, 09 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Fri, 09 Dec 2016 20:12:16 -0500
Fri, 09 Dec 2016 12:30:00 -0500I first learned about Sherri Papini, the 34-year-old California woman who went missing for 22 days in November, from a Today Show headline asking: "Was Sherri Papini kidnapping linked to sex trafficking?" In People magazine's December 9 issue, John Kelly, "a noted serial killer profiler," said Papini's abduction had all the hallmarks of human trafficking, with her mistreatment typical of the "shaming and degrading" of victims that traffickers deploy. Other wide-reaching media outlets—NBC News, ABC News, Us Weekly, the Sacramento Bee—have likewise floated the idea that the mysterious duo of Hispanic women Papini fingered may have been part of a sex-trafficking ring. Yet there is almost nothing to support the idea that Papini's disappearance was related to sex or prostitution. The whole theory hinges on the fact that Papini was "branded," as her husband Keith initially put it. Police later confirmed that Sherri did have something burnt into her skin, specifying only that it was not a "symbol" but a "message." But even accepting the premise that sex-traffickers frequently "brand" their victims—a common claim also utterly lacking in evidence—Papini's burns could just as easily have been an act of torture or a way to relay a message to Papini, police, or the public. And the latter explanations certainly make more sense than the former when taken with the facts that nothing else about the abduction belied an intent to force Papini into commercial sex and, in fact, Papini's assailants eventually just let her go, according to what she told police. Who is Sherri Papini? For those unfamiliar with the case, Papini—a stay-at-home mother of two living with her husband in Shasta County, California—disappeared on November 2 while Keith was at work and the kids were in daycare. The case came to a happy ending on Thanksgiving day, when Papini was found on the side of a rural road a few hours from her home, malnourished and knocked around but not severely injured. She has since been reunited with her family, the Shasta County Sheriff's Department is investigating, and the Papinis are taking some time away from the spotlight in an undisclosed location. Papini's disappearance, and subsequent return, earned ample national attention. The story seemed to have legs both because of the mystery surrounding Papini's disappearance and because of who Papini is: a pretty, young, white woman with a photogenic family and a Pinterest-perfect collection of hobbies: crafting, baking, exercise, home decorating, party-planning, and prayer. She was quickly dubbed a "supermom" in headlines. California State Police found Papini roadside in Yolo County, near Sacramento, with one hand chained behind her waist. She was "taken to an area hospital, and treated for non-life threatening conditions," according to Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosekno. Keith Papini has said that his wife's captors beat her, cut off her hair, and "barely fed" her. When she was discovered, Keith said, Sherri was bruised, had lost 15 percent of her body weight, and had a broken nose, "severe burns, red rashes, and chain markings." Police, however, have been less forthcoming with details about Sherri Papini's condition. Whatever injuries she suffered, overnight hospitalization was not required, and by Thanksgiving night she was back at home with her family. Sherri told police that her abductors had been two Hispanic women driving a dark SUV. She said they wore masks over their faces and spoke almost exclusively in Spanish. Upon first questioning, she provided police with little detail, which Bosenko attributed to her still recovering from the experience. But if she has since provided more information, Shasta County authorities aren't admitting to it. And they say they've yet to determine a possible motive. Authorities have "no reason not to believe" Papini, Bosekno told People magazine. But "abductions are rare in themselves, especially adult abductions." And abductions by women are "even more unique, so there remains a number of concerns that we have." Red flags, white pride, and [...]
Mon, 05 Dec 2016 17:05:00 -0500California finally managed to reform its asset forfeiture laws to make it tougher for police to use the state's poorer citizens as a piggy bank earlier this year. Will the state's residents see reform to bail regulations that keep poor people behind bars even if they aren't at risk of continued criminal behavior or flight? A pair of Democratic California state legislators, Rob Bonta (in the Assembly) and Bob Hertzberg (in the state Senate), are hoping 2017 will be the year. The two announced this morning that they'll be introducing legislation in the state intended to try to reduce the number of people who are being held in California's jail system not because they're threats, but because they're unable to pay bail. The Los Angeles Times explains, with Bonta's assistance, how that ultimately works out in California: Under state law, bail is set when a person is arrested according to a county fee schedule and depends on the gravity of the alleged crime. Offenders must post the amount upfront, or pay a 10% fee to a bond company, before they are released. Those who can't afford to do so either can remain incarcerated up to an additional 48 hours before they are formally charged and arraigned. A judge then sets the conditions for release before trial, weighing such factors as whether the defendants pose a flight risk or are a threat to their community. Those conditions typically include bail, and lawyers and legal experts say the rules on how high that monetary amount is set vary by city and county, often allowing courts to keep people in jail based on their inability to pay their fees. "We have to make the criminal justice system more just," Bonta said. "When you have a system that is making decisions simply and solely based on a person's wealth, something is fundamentally wrong and that is simply not acceptable." The stats provided by the legislators show that California has a pretrial detention rate higher than many other states—63 percent, or 46,000 people. This comes at a cost both to the counties (More than $4 million annually) and to the prisoners (who, we will remind, have merely been charged with a crime and not convicted). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in California and several other criminal justice reform groups are helping attempt to push a bill forward. An ACLU fact sheet notes that 80 percent of jail deaths in the state are those in pretrial custody, and of those, one-quarter are suicides. They also note that pretrial detention increases the likelihood that defendants will plead guilty (some will likely point out this is a feature not a bug). Hertzberg's office sent Reason a media package of releases and research studies that detail the consequences of pretrial detention. And while they've included wording of a bail reform bill for the state, what is provided so far does not actually reform bail. The draft bill they've sent, after an introduction discussing the problems with excessive pretrial detention, concludes "It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would safely reduce the number of people detained pretrial, while addressing racial and economic disparities in the pretrial system, and to ensure that people are not held in pretrial detention simply because of their inability to afford money bail." What that ultimately means is going to have to be negotiated. In New Mexico, voters recently passed some bail reform. We know that initially defense attorneys in the state initially supported legislation to reform bail so that it couldn't be denied simply due to a person's inability to pay. But after the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment was changed to give the court the authority to decide whether or not a defendant was truly unable to pay, the state's ACLU chapter and defense attorneys group dropped their support. Then the state's bail bond association went from opposing the legislation to supporting it. So ultimately bail reformers will have to keep an eye on New Mexico to see if the new rules actually result in fewer defendants fo[...]
Thu, 01 Dec 2016 17:30:00 -0500
(image) Lest we incorrectly assume that the United Kingdom stands alone in expanding surveillance power, today a controversial rule change granting the FBI much broader authority to remotely hack into computers comes on line.
Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure was updated earlier in the year, but didn't come into force until today, which gave Congress time to stop the rule change if it so wanted. This update to the rule allows federal law enforcement to seek permission to hack into large numbers of computers in any jurisdiction with a single judge's permission. Before today a judge could only authorize hacking into computers within his or her own district.
What's the big deal about this? Understand that this isn't just about hacking into computers of suspected criminals. It's about hacking into any computer that is connected to any sort of criminal investigation, and that potentially (and very likely) includes completely innocent parties who have had their own computers hacked and/or unwittingly installed malware to give a hacker access.
Tech companies and privacy activists have been critical of the broad scope of the rule change and are concerned about the potential consequences. From USA Today:
Opponents of the new rule, including Google and other big tech companies, say it would hurt crime victims twice by letting the government hack them after they've already been hit by criminal hackers. The government could potentially damage victims' computers and smartphones and destroy their data, critics say.
Federal agents must make "reasonable efforts" under the new rule to tell law-abiding Americans that their devices have been hacked by the government, but privacy advocates said that requirement is weak and victims may never be told about the intrusion.
"We can't give unlimited power for unlimited hacking — putting Americans' civil liberties at risk," [Sen. Steve] Daines said.
Daines and a small group of bipartisan legislators had been trying in Congress to delay the rule's implementation, but they failed.
So be warned. If you end up getting hacked somehow, the FBI may well be poking around inside your machine looking for the culprit without you even noticing.
Mon, 28 Nov 2016 12:45:00 -0500The United Kingdom's Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority is not part of an agency tasked with fighting terrorism. They are a licensing body monitoring labor rules in the U.K.'s agriculture industries. Nevertheless, under a new mass surveillance law, high-ranking officials of this agency will have as much access to the private Internet information of British citizens as agencies that actually are tasked with fighting terrorism. This will be the outcome of the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act, also known as the Snooper's Charter. It has passed both houses of the British Parliament and will become law in 2017 if approved by the queen. The Investigatory Powers Act makes the surveillance authorized by America's PATRIOT Act look remarkably tame in comparison. The law requires Internet Service Providers to keep all metadata and web browsing history of users for 12 months. And it allows top officials of dozens of government agencies to demand access to this information, not to fight terrorism, but any sort of crime. The list of agencies granted access included in Schedule 4 of the 300+-page law includes several government bodies whose job it is to fight various forms of fraud or general crimes. It contains rules on how to get warrants to access confidential information stored by journalists and to try to track down a journalist's sources. It, of course, creates special protections for members of Parliament to provide extra requirements before snooping on them. This is not a law about fighting terrorism. This is a law that completely destroys citizens' online privacy for the benefit of any sort of governmental investigation to solve domestic crimes. Edward Snowden called it "the most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy." This was a pet project of new Prime Minister Theresa May, and I've previously noted that she is absolutely awful on surveillance and privacy, going so far as to think that snooping on private communications is an acceptable way to fight "cyberbullying." People are now petitioning to try to force the House of Commons to reconsider the legislation. At the same time this domestic surveillance law is being passed, the U.K. is also considering a bill adding additional restrictions to the availability of online pornography. The law's stated purpose is to demand age checks to access porn sites, but a clause would potentially ban portrayal of certain types of "non-traditional" sex acts, meaning the kinky stuff, like spanking, female ejaculation, and anything that looks non-consensual (even though it's just role-playing). It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see the very, very bad ways that these two laws could intersect. Ron Bailey previously noted how Russia is using surveillance laws like those in the U.K. and the United States as models for their own. The Investigatory Powers Act is an autocrat's wet dream. Laws exactly like this one will be used in other countries to snoop and crack down on dissenters and protesters, and the United Kingdom will hardly be in a position to criticize. And if President-Elect Donald Trump's choice to head the CIA—Rep. Mike Pompeo—is an indicator, America may be following in England's footsteps.[...]
Mon, 21 Nov 2016 12:20:00 -0500The mother of Jamarion Robinson wants to know why U.S. Marshals felt the need to shoot at him 76 times in a deadly encounter in East Point, Georgia, last August. She'll probably never get answers she can trust, partly because her son is dead but also because none of the marshals were wearing body cameras. The incident is a reminder that, even though the Department of Justice has been providing grants to municipal police departments to purchase and implement body cameras, it is not following its own example. Federal law enforcement officers are not wearing body cameras. In August, a U.S. Marshals task force attempted to apprehend Robinson, wanted for attempted arson and for aggravated assault on police in Atlanta. His mother told Atlanta's NBC affiliate Robinson had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He had apparently poured gasoline on the floor in his home a few weeks before this incident and later pointed a gun at police officers in Atlanta before running off. The marshals were asked by local police to assist in arresting Robinson for these previous incidents. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Robinson had a gun and shot at marshals when they came to arrest him. He ignored orders to drop the gun. It's not clear from the report who fired first, but evidence indicates Robinson did fire his gun. The marshals shot back, and while they don't know how many shots were fired in total, a medical examiner said had been struck 76 times all over his body, including his hands and feet. Furthermore, an investigator hired by Robinson's family said he found two bullets lodged straight down into the floor where Robinson's body was found. (Note that there's some confusion in reporting here: Another news outlet says he was struck around 20 times.) It may very well have been justified for marshals to open fire on Robinson. But body cameras could have made it clear that Robinson shot first and could have explained why so many shots were fired in a way a vague, passive-voice police account could not. But even though the Department of Justice supports such transparency, the federal government is lagging behind the municipal law enforcement agencies its funding. Though we've also seen that local police have unfortunately been finding ways to bypass recording. There were local police on the scene at this encounter. Their police cars normally have dash cameras, but on this particular day they were driving new cars that didn't have the cameras outfitted yet, according to the NBC report. But even if they had cameras, the U.S. Marshals would not have let the officers use them. Because the feds have not come up with their own rules yet for camera use, they're instructing local agencies that they can't have body cameras on when they're doing joint arrest or task forces with the marshals. Now, with Donald Trump as our president-elect, it's worth wondering and worrying about whether any of the federal law enforcement agencies will implement body cameras at all. Trump, who has bought into the false narrative that there's a "war on police," was endorsed by the national Fraternal Order of Police. The Fraternal Order of Police has praised the possibility of Sen. Jeff Sessions, a drug warrior who supports civil asset forfeiture and opposes sentencing reform, as Trump's attorney general pick. Given that police unions have been incredibly resistant to the implementation of body cameras, it may be a challenge to get the Department of Justice to join the camera club, and we may see much less pressure or financial assistance for local police agencies to do the same.[...]
Fri, 18 Nov 2016 16:02:00 -0500One Harris County Texas Magistrate doubled a woman's bail from $1,000 to $2,000 because she responded to his questions with "Yeah" instead of "yes." Another magistrate told a woman given a $3,500 bond for release over several vehicle violations (including driving without a license) that the fact she was caught up in this system of arrests and fines counted as "job security" for him. These are cases progressive activist group the Texas Organizing Project gave to the Houston Press to highlight situations where judges are not considering the poverty of defendants and simply don't care whether they are able to pay for bail. The county is being sued for failing to consider whether defendants are able to afford bail in cases where they aren't flight risks. One lawsuit noted: In Harris County, wealthier arrestees are released from custody almost immediately upon payment of money to the County. Arrestees who are too poor to purchase their release remain in jail because of their poverty. On any given night, over 500 people arrested for misdemeanors languish in the Harris County Jail because of a money bail that they cannot afford. Between 2009 and 2015, 55 human beings died in the Harris County Jail awaiting trial after being unable pay the amount of money demanded by the County for their release. On behalf of the many other arrestees subjected to Harris County's unlawful and ongoing post-arrest wealth-based detention scheme, Plaintiffs challenge in this action the use of secured money bail to detain only the most impoverished of misdemeanor arrestees. Harris County's wealth-based pretrial detention system violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution. It has no place in modern American law. The examples of the cruel judges were provided just this week but the class action lawsuit goes back to earlier in the year. It's part of a push by many organizations targeting abusive bail practices in several states and counties that essentially create debtors' prisons. This isn't the only suit in Texas. Earlier in the month the American Civil Liberties Union announced a class-action lawsuit against Santa Fe, Texas, for treating poor misdemeanor crime defendants as "job security" by trying to force money out of them or else sending them off to the cells. The election did see one potential piece of good news for how states and counties deal with bail. In New Mexico, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment reforming the bail system. Their system now specifically declares that defendants may not be "detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond." It will take some time to see whether the amendment is effective. The defendant must prove his or her indigence to the court itself, which would then rule whether the defendant is truly too poor to pay. Given the financial incentives that have driven this sort of behavior by judges, some might well be rather reluctant to look upon these requests charitably. The New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association supported the original draft of the amendment. Once the original text was changed to give the court itself the authority to determine a defendant's poverty, the association turned against it. Earlier in the week, Attorney General Loretta Lynch called for an overhaul of local court systems to avoid treating the poor in this fashion. From the Washington Post: "When we begin to treat defendants as cash registers, rather than citizens, we do more damage to the fabric of our institutions," Lynch told a crowd of judges, lawyers and law clerks gathered for an annual lecture at the U.S. District Court in Washington, a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. "We stain the sanctity of our laws. And we only tighten the shackles of those struggling to break the chains of poverty." But Lynch will soon be making way for the Trump administration, and possibly Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) [...]
Fri, 18 Nov 2016 11:06:00 -0500Swastikas spray-painted on softball dugouts. Steve Bannon getting appointed to the White House. There's been lots of spooky stuff going down in America since Donald Trump was elected president. When I reported last Friday that there had been "no violent hate-crimewave" happening—emphasis on the word violent—it was to dispel widespread rumors of a post-election surge in physical attacks on gay, transgender, and non-white Americans by emboldened and bigoted Trump supporters. Thankfully, this still holds true. While the public expression of nativist, racist, sexist, or anti-LGBT sentiments may have experienced a post-election upswing, incidents of actual altercations or attacks have still been very rare. Several of the most prominent early reports of Trump-inspired violence against people of color were later admitted to be fabrications or directly contradicted by police statements. Pointing this out seems to really anger people, who assume my intent is discredit all such reports, or to deny that there's any bigotry among Trump supporters. Neither is true. Rather, I saw a lot of distortions being spread and a lot of people who were really scared. I heard from LGBT and Jewish and non-white friends of mine, in private communications and on social media, who honestly believed it was open season on them this week. And I didn't want to see people I care about fearing for their very lives and physical safety because of a massive amount of misinformation floating around. This isn't helped by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which states that more than 400 hate crimes have been committed in America post-election. But the vast majority of the examples SPLC gives involve incidents like one elementary student telling another that he would be deported, or a white woman laughing at a black woman who overheard her saying racist things, or a man in a car yelling "fag" as he drove by a gay couple—things that may be intolerant, unkind, and legitimately scary for those targeted, but not what most people would conjure when they hear "hate crimes" or "hateful extremism." And pointing that out doesn't equate to condoning these acts, or dismissing the hurt and fear they inspire in people. It is simply an attempt to separate what is really happening in America right now from what is hyperbole, hysteria, or hoax. The bottom line is that when it comes to physical aggression inspired by this election, we are looking at a little more than a dozen incidents reported, over a 10 day period, in a country of roughly 318.9 million people—none of which resulted in serious injuries. And these incidents vary widely in how much they can be attributed to politics, prejudice, and hate versus tempers, egos, and mental-health issues flaring along with the election results and our collective heightened emotional state. Regarding the rash of hateful graffiti and signs popping up this week: while some was certainly meant to offend or inspire terror, other times it has turned out to be the work of anti-Trump forces who intended it as commentary on how they perceive "Trump's America." For instance, the message scrawled on an Elon University whiteboard post-election—"Bye Bye Latinos Hasta La Vista"—was actually "written by a Latino student who was upset about the results of the election and wrote the message as a satirical commentary," according the school's vice president for student life. The same for a Nazi flag that went up over a house in San Francisco last week. In Pittsburg, California, a sign reading "You can hang a n****r from a tree / Equal rights he will never see!" was posted aside a house, and shared in a photo on Twitter November 12 by a man who wrote: "My sister texted this to me 10 minutes ago. Our democracy is being tested even in California." This post was retweeted more than 4,200 times. But it turns out the sign was posted by a black man, on his own house, lon[...]
Thu, 17 Nov 2016 15:00:00 -0500Sex Offenders, Stigma, and Social Control, by Diana Rickard, Rutgers University Press, 216 pp., $44.95 Last year, Lenore Skenazy hosted a brunch at her home in New York City. The "free range kids" advocate invited journalists, fed them quiche, and introduced them to two guest speakers. Both were young men who had served time for sex crimes against minors. As videotape rolled, one man told the audience about entering puberty with great sexual confusion. He said he'd been raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, homeschooled, and kept isolated from other kids, including girls. He talked about sexually touching his little sister, and he talked about being incarcerated for this offense while he himself was still a child. The other man described a statutory crime. He is gay, and as a very young adult, he said, he began a relationship—including sex—with a gay teen younger than the legal age of consent. The young man served his time in prison, but then an effort began to "civilly commit" him to a locked mental hospital for sex offenders, probably for the rest of his life. That effort was irrational and vicious, he said; he certainly was not a continuing danger to children. The reporters scribbled notes. They looked spellbound. I was at the brunch. It was a terrific event, one whose time had come. (Reason ran video from it online, and Skenazy wrote about it in the July 2015 issue.) Skenazy has spent the past several years writing and speaking about what she feels is a modern-day panic about imagined danger to children. She talks about parents reluctant to let their kids roam the neighborhood, about children not allowed even to play on their lawns for fear of being kidnapped or molested. One big trigger for that panic, Skenazy believes, is erroneous attitudes about sex offenders. Research by the U.S. Department of Justice shows that the vast majority of sex offenders pose no further threat to children after they do their time. Nevertheless, they get put on public sex offender registries, and residence restrictions banish them from parts of cities and even entire cities. They can't get work. They fear vigilantes visiting their addresses, which are publicized on the registry. Thus do irrationality and paranoia quarantine a group from society. That was the message of Skenazy's brunch, with its Sunday-morning quiche, its ex-cons, and the favorable press that followed. But the event's success was marred months later, when the gay man who had spoken there was re-arrested. He'd been caught texting with a teenaged boy. He was jailed again, amid a new round of publicity. For the fledgling movement for sex offenders' civil and human rights, the incident was disheartening. The movement's nascent efforts remain swamped by cultural noise about sex offenders, noise that is often wrong. Take the claim that sex offenders are incorrigible even after being punished—that most can't or won't control themselves, and they inevitably re-offend. Sometimes they do. But a raft of research, including studies by both the U.S. and Canadian governments, have shown that adjudicated sex offenders have a very low recidivism rate. The U.S. study found that rates for first-time offenders are as low as five percent during the first three years after release. That's the lowest rate for any violent crime except murder. Nor is it true that people who sexually assault kids tend to be strangers to their victims. That's the idea that fuels sex offender registries and residency restrictions, but the vast majority of offenders are family members or friends of victims. Every time you see sex-crime law christened with the first name of a dead child who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered by a stranger, remember that these scenarios are about as rare as death by lightning. But child sex abuse is common. Trusted stepfathers, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, teachers, f[...]
Wed, 16 Nov 2016 18:55:00 -0500
A bizarre and disconcerting bit of politically motivated violence, which happened on November 5 pre-election but just came to my attention today: Jarrod Ean-Dixon, a participant in supporter of** New Hampshire's Free State Project (FSP), was shot multiple times during a conflict that began over a group of people including Michael Sirois, who allegedly shot Ean-Dixon, objecting to the Project's Porcupine flag (pictured below).
Ean-Dixon's family, in a web site dedicated to the incident, says that the 36-year-old father of three is "healing well considering his grave injuries." (One of his sons witnessed the shooting.)
The FSP is an effort to get the libertarian-minded to move en masse to New Hampshire to influence its politics and culture in a libertarian direction in a more concentrated and hopefully effective manner than they could achieve nationally. I profiled FSP for Reason at its beginnings in 2004, and Garrett Quinn checked in on their progress for us in 2013.
Their symbol is the porcupine, an animal allegedly peaceful when left alone but potentially dangerous when harassed.
The New Hampshire Union Leader reports on Ean-Dixon's long involvement with the FSP, including quotes from past FSP leaders on his involvement with the cause, and states:
Police have said the dispute was over the use of a porcupine on a yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag, rather than the traditional curled snake. Police have said Sirois believed the porcupine was a desecration of the flag.
A woman, Kasondra Williams, who fled with the accused shooter and his other violent friend, Jason Gerry, who had allegedly punched Ean-Dixon, was also shot in the incident, apparently accidentally.
**Correction: The Free State Project does not have "members" despite what the earlier headline read, just "supporters" or "participants." Since Ean-Dixon lived in New Hampshire prior to FSP's existence, he is properly just a "supporter."
Tue, 15 Nov 2016 10:30:00 -0500The FBI just released new information on hate crimes—defined as "crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity"—that occurred in America last year. Here are six key points and takeaways that are crucial to understanding the data. 1. The new report covers incidents that occurred in 2015. This seems like the first important fact to note, since some people have already been trying to pass the data off as a response to Donald Trump's election as president. That's obviously impossible. Trump did start his campaign seriously in the summer of 2015, which leaves open the possibility for his influence on bias-based crimes last year. But other influential events of 2015 include major Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and Turkey; the mass shooting carried out by ISIS supporters in San Bernardino, California; the rising refugee crisis in Europe; an array of "officer involved shootings," anti-police brutality protests, and Black Lives Matter activism within the U.S.; and the transgender bathroom issue breaking into the mainstream media/political scene for the first time, to name a few. Any serious explanation for a shift in violence against various minorities last year must take all of that (and many other factors) into account, so it's disappointing to see people immediately leap to pin new data to "Trumpism." One needn't feel love for Trump and his fan club to find any explanation that starts and stops with them woefully lacking, partisan, and, to the extent that it clouds out analysis of other factors, possibly destructive. 2. The data is incomplete + inherently increase-prone every year. The FBI collects national data on all sorts of crimes as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. It has done so since the 1930s. In 1990, it started specifically collecting data "about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity," or what it calls "hate crimes." The first FBI hate-crime statistics included reporting data from just 11 states. Since 1990, the number of law-enforcement agencies participating in the FBI's hate-crime reporting program has grown relatively steadily, meaning that in terms of sheer number of incidents, part (or perhaps all) of any increases may be attributed to an increase in the number of jurisdictions and agencies reporting hate-crime data to the FBI. The 2015 statistics include information from law-enforcement agencies representing some 283,884,034 people, or about 89 percent of the U.S. population. This is actually down from 2014 and 2013 (when 15,494 and 15,016 agencies participated, respectively), but up from 2012, when just 13,022 participated.* 3. Hate-crimes against persons are down over last year. The FBI reported a total of 5,850 incidents from 2015 that it categorized as hate crimes, up slightly over 2014, when 5,479 incidents were reported. Overall, 65 of these biased-based incidents were classified as "crimes against society," 3,646 as "crimes against persons," and 2,338 as property crimes (with some incidents counted in more than one category). This represents a decrease in crimes against persons since 2014, when 4,048 such crimes were reported. 4. Nearly two-thirds of all hate crimes involved no physical violence. Of all 2015 incidents that the FBI deemed hate crimes, a little more than one third—36.5 percent—involved some sort of physical violence against an individual or group of individuals. Simple assault accounted for 24.5 percent of all incidents, aggravated assault for 11.6 percent, rape for 0.22 percent, and murder for 0.14 percent. Looking at just crimes against people, the most common occurrence was intimidation, which made up 41 percent of the incidents in this category. Simple assault accounted for 39 percent of crimes aga[...]
Fri, 04 Nov 2016 15:30:00 -0400Karen Carpenter: Goodbye to Love. Reelz. Saturday, November 5, 9 p.m. People Magazine Investigates: The Long Island Serial Killer. Investigation Discovery. Monday, November 7, 9 p.m. With the world a good bet to end Tuesday—at least, if we're lucky—this is not the week to be wasting your dwindling time on esoteric PBS costume dramas or earnest public-access-channel poetry slams. Go with your primal instincts and wallow in tabloid culture as God and Jerry Springer intended. The purest essence of tabloidiana, of course, is the true-crime show, a cruelly underserved market in the United States. It's hard to believe we've gotten along all these years on a thin diet of Forensic Files, Dateline NBC, The First 48, Wives with Knives, The Hunt with John Walsh, Dead Silent, Swamp Murders, and a scant two dozen others. Fear not, though. People Magazine Investigates, in which the Woodward-and-Bernstein of botched boob jobs and celebrity liposuction turns its keen journalistic eye on crime with the same relentless energy with which it has pursued The Sexiest Man Alive and 100 Most Beautiful People all these many decades. People's true-crime adventures start with a two-hour episode on a serial killer known variously as the Gilgo Beach Killer (for the remote coastal strip of Long Island where he's stashed some of his bodies) or the Craigslist Ripper (for the place he apparently found his victims in the escort-service ads). As homicidal maniacs go, the Gilgo Beach Killer isn't a bad candidate for true-crime TV investiture. Between 2007 and 2010, he strangled (not ripped; the true-crime community isn't over-obsessed with literalism) at least four women working as escorts, then wrapped their bodies in burlap and hid them in the brush just off the beach. Because the women all disappeared from different jurisdictions—and perhaps also because missing hookers aren't necessarily a high police priority—nobody even realized a serial killer was at work until a fifth escort suffered a paranoid meltdown while at the home of a client near Gilgo Beach and ran off into the night, babbling that "they" were plotting to kill her. The search for that woman, 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, led to the discovery of the other four victims—and, eventually, six other bodies not necessarily connected to the Gilgo Beach Killer. Serial killers apparently compose one of the major local demographics, and I'd guess it won't be long before they're pressing for tax breaks, crop subsidies, and speech codes establishing their right to be referred to as de-metabolizers rather than murderers. Unfortunately, People magazine's long immersion in what might be termed the soft-core side of tabloid culture ("FAMILY SECRETS: BRAD AND ANGELINA'S EMOTIONAL BATTLE OVER THEIR KIDS!") has left it without ability to generate the clipped, quasi-sociopathic narrative punch necessary for a story like this. The show can't even sort out which of the victims died at the hands of the Gilgo Beach De-metabolizer, much less anything about him. The script has more potholes than a Bill de Blasio freeway, including an off-handed mention near the end that one of the main on-screen interviewees got murdered a couple of months ago by the sister of one of the victims. In the end, I drew two lessons: 1) despite what you probably think, there's a lot more to true-crime shows than cheesy recreations and mournfully tinkling piano riffs, and 2) the CDC should forget about zika and try to find a vaccine for whatever they've got in Gilgo Beach. If true-crime is the meat and potatoes of tabloidiana, anorexia show-biz martyrs are its dessert, to coin a really unfortunate metaphor. Cue to the Reelz cable channel's documentary Karen Carpenter: Goodbye to Love, a breathlessly melancholy account of the crack-up of the soprano balladeer who[...]
Wed, 02 Nov 2016 13:00:00 -0400
"I think Obama has been kind of revolutionary [on criminal justice reform] in that he has said things that no other sitting President has ever said before," says Radley Balko, columnist with the Washington Post. "That said, most of the revolutionary aspects of the administration have been about saying things and not necessarily doing things."
Balko writes a column, The Watch, which covers civil liberties and the criminal justice system and he sat down with Reason TV editor in chief, Nick Gillespie in Nashville to talk about progress made in criminal justice reform.
Edited by Paul Detrick. Shot by Detrick, Todd Krainin and Joshua Swain.
Wed, 02 Nov 2016 12:48:00 -0400It's too soon to predict whether the apparent "ambush-style" killings of two police officers in Des Moines, Iowa, will lead to more calls for tougher laws to punish people who target first responders in that state. Police are right now too focused on the hunt for the suspect (they captured him earlier this morning). But 2016 has seen an increase in police shootings and several high-profile ambush-style killings of police. The Des Moines Register notes that these two officers are the first to be fatally shot in the line of duty in the city since 1977. We do know that Louisiana passed a "Blue Lives Matter" law earlier in the year that was the first of its kind to add particular occupations to the state's hate crime sentence enhancement. If a person commits a felony against a police officer or an emergency responder on the basis of their occupation (or perceived occupation) the sentence for the crime may be enhanced in the same way it could be if a criminal were to target a person on the basis of their race or religion. One does not have to be either a supporter or an opponent of hate crime laws to see how adding police as a protected category could go seriously astray. After all, they're the ones making the recommendations on what to charge suspects to prosecutors. Sure enough, the New Orleans Police Department have tried twice now to charge suspects with hate crimes against police simply based on the men saying things the police found disturbing. I blogged about the first case in September. Police arrested a man for a drunken vandalism incident. During his arrest he shouted slurs at the police, and therefore police charged him with a hate crime. After the incident got media attention it became abundantly clear that the police had charged him because of "hate speech," not an actual hate crime. Police acknowledged that they had misapplied the law and last week prosecutors said they would not charge him under the hate crime statute. Now there's another case of New Orleans Police not understanding what the law even means. A man called 911 and told the operator "he was going to shoot and kill any officer that responded to the call," according to police reports. While that's certainly a cause for concern, when police went to confront the man, Frenwick Randolph, he was apparently harmless. They detained him peacefully and found the phone he used to make the call and some marijuana. Police then arrested the man for felony terrorizing with the hate crime enhancement specifically for threatening police. But according to The Times-Picayune, a magistrate commissioner rejected both the terrorist threat charge and the underlying hate crime charge, saying police failed to substantiate the charges. He instead ruled that the man could be jailed for criminal mischief. It's not over, though. The district attorney will still decide whether to formally charge the man with the hate crime enhancement. A couple of commenters on the Times-Picayune story claim to know the suspect and said he was "off his meds." Once again this is a crime enhancement based on what words the man said, not what he did. It's not an effort to use a sentencing boost to discourage a "trend" of crime targeting law enforcement, because there's little statistical evidence that such a trend exists. He obviously wasn't planning an "ambush," since he warned 911. The law is turning out to be a way for police or prosecutors to tack on more penalties (and for lawmakers to maintain the support of public sector unions). These are not anomalies. This is how police are going to try to enforce the law. They don't see a difference between "hate speech" and "hate crimes," and frankly we have a real problem that the same can be said for many Americans now. And, you [...]
Tue, 01 Nov 2016 12:25:00 -0400
Almost a thousand miles south of Houston, the Mexican town of Cheran was once afflicted by gangsters who had branched into the timber trade. They killed, they kidnapped, and they kept cutting down trees that they didn't have a right to take. And so, the BBC reports,
(image) on Friday 15 April 2011, Cheran's levantamiento, or uprising, began. On the road coming down from the forest outside Margarita's home, the women blockaded the loggers' pick-ups and took some of them hostage. As the church bells of El Calvario rang out and fireworks exploded in the dawn sky alerting the community to danger, the people of Cheran came running to help. It was tense—hotheads had to be persuaded by the women not to string up the hostages from an ancient tree outside the church....
The municipal police arrived with the mayor, and armed men came to free their hostage-friends. There was an uneasy stand-off between the townspeople, the loggers and the police. It ended after two loggers were injured by a young man who shot a firework directly at them....
The police and local politicians were quickly driven out of town because the people suspected they were collaborating with the criminal networks. Political parties were banned—and still are—because they were deemed to have caused divisions between people....
Meanwhile armed checkpoints were established on the three main roads coming in to town.
Today, five years later, those checkpoints still exist. They are guarded by members of the Ronda Comunitaria—a militia or local police force made up of men and women from Cheran.
Now that the gangsters are no longer raiding the forest, the locals manage the resource, in what sounds like the sort of community-based system that the late Elinor Ostrom frequently wrote about. Meanwhile, the BBC's writer notes that "in the last year there have been no murders, kidnaps or disappearances" in Cheran, even as such crimes are common in communities just a few kilometers away. The place hasn't declared independence—various sorts of government funding are still flowing, and when serious crimes do occur the attorney general can prosecute them—but the town of 20,000 has achieved a remarkable level of autonomy.
To read the whole thing, go here. To read about some other efforts in the area to battle the cartels outside the state, go here—and to see how the state eventually absorbed those efforts, go here. And even further south, to read about a village in Colombia that kicked out all armed groups, from right-wing paramilitaries to left-wing guerrillas to officially sanctioned soldiers and cops, go here.
Tue, 01 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0400