The police are never wrong

This would seem cut and dried to me:

Here is my best distillation (based on detailed findings made by the district judge after a five-day bench trial):

In October 2010, officers were searching for a “parolee-at-large” who allegedly had been spotted bicycling in front of a suspected drug-trafficking house in suburban Los Angeles. Officers, who had no warrant to search or arrest, went to the house, announced themselves to the owner, and gained entry by threatening to force their way in. (The parolee was not there.)

Meanwhile, officers Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson went to “clear the backyard.” After entering the yard and checking some small metal storage boxes, the two officers came to a dilapidated wooden “shack” that (as the district court found) they could not “reasonably” have believed to be unoccupied. The shack had various signs of occupancy, and a lead officer testified that he had advised the deputies that a man named Angel lived in a shed in the yard with his pregnant girlfriend. (The district judge found that both deputies had heard this advisement, and that if they had not then they had “unreasonably failed to pay attention.”) With his gun drawn, Conley pulled open the door of the shack.

The Mendezes were resting on a futon; Angel kept a BB gun next to his bed to shoot pests. When he heard the deputies’ entry, he picked up the BB gun to move it so he could get up. (Whether the gun was “pointed at” the deputies remains disputed, but the trial judge found Mendez was moving it innocently, merely “to help him sit up.”) Conley shouted “gun,” and the deputies fired 15 bullets at the two occupants. Mendez, severely injured, exclaimed, “I didn’t know it was you guys. It was a BB gun….”

No criminal case was filed against the officers, but the courts did award the Mendezes $4 million in damages in a civil suit. The case is now at the Supreme Court to review that award. I wonder what would have happened if Angel had had a real gun and killed one of the officers?

Jeff Sessions shows his critics were right

Jeff Sessions isn’t a racist it’s just that his policies seem to be … or something. Let’s see what Jeff did the last two days of Black History Month:

  • He dropped an objection to a voter ID law in Texas:

The Republican-led Texas Legislature passed one of the toughest voter ID laws in the country in 2011, requiring voters to show a driver’s license, passport or other government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot.

The Obama administration’s Justice Department sued Texas to block the law in 2013 and scored a major victory last year after a federal appeals court ruled that the law needed to be softened because it discriminated against minority voters who lacked the required IDs.

Opponents of the law said Republican lawmakers selected IDs that were most advantageous for Republican-leaning white voters and discarded IDs that were beneficial to Democratic-leaning minority voters. For example, legislators included licenses to carry concealed handguns, which are predominantly carried by whites, and excluded government employee IDs and public university IDs, which are more likely to be used by blacks, Hispanics and Democratic-leaning younger voters.

But the Justice Department under President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a judge on Monday that it was withdrawing its claim that Texas enacted the law with a discriminatory intent.

Martin Luther King Jr.

This is the day that we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. And so we should remember what he said and what he stood for (from his letter from a Birmingham jail cell):

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

from one of his last speeches:

We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.

Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.

If you want to honor his memory, you could do worse than go to the Women’s March next Saturday in Washington or one of the hundreds of others around the country.

and more from the previous speech:

In 1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation being signed by Abraham Lincoln. But he was not given any land to make that freedom meaningful. It was something like keeping a person in prison for a number of years and suddenly discovering that that person is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. And you just go up to him and say, “Now you are free,” but you don’t give him any bus fare to get to town. You don’t give him any money to get some clothes to put on his back or to get on his feet again in life.

Every court of jurisprudence would rise up against this, and yet this is the very thing that our nation did to the black man. It simply said, “You’re free,” and it left him there penniless, illiterate, not knowing what to do. And the irony of it all is that at the same time the nation failed to do anything for the black man, though an act of Congress was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest. Which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor.

But not only did it give the land, it built land-grant colleges to teach them how to farm. Not only that, it provided county agents to further their expertise in farming; not only that, as the years unfolded it provided low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And to this day thousands of these very persons are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies every years not to farm. And these are so often the very people who tell Negroes that they must lift themselves by their own bootstraps. It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.

We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice.

You could also honor him by trying to help the immigrants (from his speech in Memphis):

One day a man came to Jesus and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base.  Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from midair and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho.  And he talked about a certain man who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side; they didn’t stop to help him. Finally, a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good man, this was the great man because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.

Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association.  That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road.  I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho.  And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road.  It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road.  In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around.  Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking , and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight.

You could also help out a union:

Negroes in the United States read the history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail and equality will be exacted. They are shocked that action organizations, sit-ins, civil disobedience and protests are becoming our everyday tools, just as strikes, demonstrations and union organization became yours to insure that bargaining power genuinely existed on both sides of the table.

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone. Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.

What you shouldn’t do is denigrate one of the leaders in Civil Rights:

Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!

Freedom in Russia

Natalya Gorbanevskaya died last Friday. Here’s her story:

On Aug. 25, 1968, Ms. Gorbanevskaya and a handful of other dissidents gathered in Red Square, in Moscow, to denounce the Soviets’ sending tanks to Czechoslovakia four days earlier to quell the liberal reforms known as the Prague Spring. The group stood on a spot reserved for executions in prerevolutionary times and held up banners with slogans like “shame to the invaders.”       

Ms. Gorbanevskaya’s companions were arrested, but she was not, presumably because she had two young sons. She wrote about the trial of her associates for The Chronicle of Current Events, an influential underground publication she had helped to start earlier that year.

Ms. Gorbanevskaya’s Chronicle writings prompted her arrest and imprisonment in December 1969. Psychiatrists diagnosed “continuous sluggish schizophrenia,” and she was confined to a psychiatric prison until February 1972.

The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, but the more things change the more they stay the same:

This August, on the 45th anniversary of her arrest in Red Square, Ms. Gorbanevskaya returned there with nine other demonstrators to commemorate the protest. They were arrested on charges of holding an unsanctioned rally.

More voting

There are a bunch of articles out there noting the Judge Roberts was probably wrong when he asked:

“Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout?” Roberts asked Donald Verrilli Jr., solicitor general for the Department of Justice, during Wednesday’s arguments.

“I do not know that,” Verrilli answered.

“Massachusetts,” Roberts responded, adding that even Mississippi has a narrower gap.

Roberts later asked if Verrilli knew which state has the greatest disparity in registration. Again, Roberts said it was Massachusetts.

The problem is, Roberts is woefully wrong on those points, according to Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who on Thursday branded Roberts’s assertion a slur and made a declaration of his own. “I’m calling him out,” Galvin said.

You can go here to find the actual numbers (I looked at the table: Reported Voting and Registration by Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin, for States: November 2010), although 2008 is better since that is the last Presidential election that has this information. If you look at the data it does seem that Roberts is wrong (it’s difficult to prove this since Roberts doesn’t say what data he is using).

There are a few things to note here:

  1. Massachusetts has had its problems with racism and voting, this shouldn’t be ignored.
  2. At this point in time, it seems there are more problems with Asians and Hispanic voting–the percent of citizens voting in the 2008 election were (the alone part is there because many people listed more than one race, that means these are not perfect statistics): white alone–64.4%; black alone–64.7%; Asian alone–47.6%; Hispanic–49.9%. The numbers aren’t out for 2012 (or I can’t find them), so it’s hard to say if this has changed (the percent of people who voted who were Hispanic was about 10% and 3% for Asians, but it’s difficult to get the percent of voting age US citizens who are Hispanic or Asian–from here, it seems to be 9.7% and 3.6%).
  3. It seems to me to be much more important that Roberts has a history of trying to get rid of the Voting Rights Act.

As an aside to that last point, note that the article links to this which negates one of the conservative justices arguments:

But in 2009, when an earlier challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act reached the Supreme Court, Roberts sounded a lot like Reagan during oral arguments. He echoed the late president’s view that Section 5 represented an unconscionable punishment for the South’s past sins. “Congress can impose this disparate treatment forever because of the history in the South?” Roberts asked the government attorney defending the law.

In his subsequent opinion in the 2009 VRA case, in which the court seemed close to striking down Section 5, Roberts wrote that the government had made the bailout provision “all but a nullity.” In the three years since that verdict, however, more than 100 jurisdictions have been allowed to bail out of Section 5—more than twice as many in the nearly three decades before. It’s not even that expensive to bail out; the usual cost is $5,000. The reason Shelby County hasn’t been able to take advantage of the bailout provision is that in 2006, county election officials redistricted the only black city council member in one of the county’s towns out of a job.

So, the Act has a built-in provision to wind down–as regions show they no longer discriminate they can petition to bail out.

Voting

The Supreme Court is looking at the Voting Rights Act. As usual, Scalia makes some stupid statements:

The problem here, however, is suggested by the comment I made earlier, that the initial enactment of this legislation in a — in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear was — in the Senate, there — it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term.
Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it.
And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.
I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there’s a good reason for it.
That’s the — that’s the concern that those of us who — who have some questions about this statute have. It’s — it’s a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress. There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now. And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this. The State government is not their government, and they are going to lose — they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.

Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?

There are a couple stupid statements in this argument. First that being able to vote is a ‘racial entitlement’, I hope nothing needs to be said here. Second that a unanimous vote somehow shows that there’s a problem–perhaps in the past some people voted against it because they didn’t think discrimination was bad (I would think this would be obvious since some states were practicing segregation), but now everybody thinks it is? That can’t be it according to Scalia, it must be because of some kind of intimidation.

As noted here, I find it interesting that the Court (which would really be the conservative members) found that reporters who no longer phoned people to interview them had no standing:

to bring a constitutional challenge to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008, a law that authorizes dragnet spying on US persons even absent identification of specific targets. (Another constitutional challenge to the law, Jewel v. NSA, is still winding its way through the courts.)

but that those same judges seem to no problem with Shelby County, AL having standing to challenge the formula of the Voting Right Act despite the fact that:

If Congress were to write a formula that looked to the number of successful Section 2 suits per million residents, Alabama would be the number one State on the list.
If you factor in unpublished Section 2 suits, Alabama would be the number two State on the list. If you use the number of Section 5 enforcement actions, Alabama would again be the number two State on the list.
I mean, you’re objecting to a formula, but under any formula that Congress could devise, it would capture Alabama.

I also like this comment by Justice Sotomayor in response the attorney arguing for Shelby County saying the law should not apply to the county any more because there is no longer any problems with registering voters:

Counsel, the reason Section 5 was created was because States were moving faster than litigation permitted to catch the new forms of discriminatory practices that were being developed. As the courts struck down one form, the States would find another. And basically, Justice Ginsburg calls it secondary. I don’t know that I’d call anything secondary or primary. Discrimination is discrimination.
And what Congress said is it continues, not in terms of voter numbers, but in terms of examples of other ways to disenfranchise voters, like moving a voting booth from a convenient location for all voters to a place that historically has been known for discrimination.

The consensus seems to be that the Court will get rid of at least a major part of the act–it’s not like voting is a right, right?

The Black Power Mixtape

Over the weekend I watched the Black Power Mixtape. I found it interesting for a couple reasons:

  • we don’t hear about most of the people in the movie even though many of them play important parts in our history–Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, Shirley Chisholm, …–and here we actually see interviews with them. We also see extended pieces about the Black Panthers, much of it from their perspective.
  • the reports and interviews are from an outside perspective and so we see the US from a different perspective. The clips were from news reports by Swedish reporters and, during this period, the US and Sweden did not have very good relations (the US recalled its ambassador in 1968 and left the position vacant until 1970, then froze relations in 1972–both times because of comments by the Swedish Prime Minister). And you can tell, the reports make it seem like parts of the US were similar to a third world country with a terrible system of justice. It was certainly true that many or most blacks did live in third world conditions and didn’t receive fairness in the justice system, but you wouldn’t have seen this shown quite so starkly on US TV.

In some ways, I liked the extras more than the actual movie. In the extras there are extended pieces on Carmichael, Davis, Chisholm, and Louis Farrakhan and all of them are fascinating. You should watch it.

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