The problem of cop-on-citizen crime is cultural

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Police use violence to contain a crowd in Anaheim protesting police violence in 2012.

Whenever a black, brown or Muslim person commits a crime, pundits spend the next news cycle trying to diagnose what it is about those communities that produces such violence. White Americans are so convinced the problem is with the groups themselves, and not individuals or social forces, that they elected a president who wants to ban all Muslims, build a wall to keep out immigrants, and instill law and order in black neighborhoods.

Yet when a police officer kills an unarmed citizen, media presents the officer’s side of the story; digs into the victim’s past for any evidence of wrongdoing, no matter how petty; and urges the public not to turn against law enforcement. When the officer is truly indefensible, he’s cast as a bad apple. But if there’s any group in America whose violence needs to be examined on a systemic level, it’s the police. Continue reading

Trump and the coming era of mass incarceration

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a huge advocate of the abuse-riddled private prison industry.

Thanks in large part to the War on Drugs, the United States houses the world’s largest prisoner population. More than 2 million Americans are behind bars. With less than a quarter of its population, we even have more prisoners than China. This is one of the great scandals of present-day America, and it doesn’t receive the serious attention it deserves from politicians and mainstream media. And the GOP, led by the Trump Administration, plans to make it much worse. Continue reading

Why liberals protest and Republicans stay home

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Even for a billionaire like George Soros, it must have cost a pretty penny to pay all those protesters and buy them all hats.

Concerned citizens have been antagonizing Republican lawmakers in state town halls for the past several weeks. Their concerns range from worry about how they’ll survive when Republicans take away their healthcare to wondering how our fragile civilization will survive with a lumbering, fascist orangutan in the White House. Republicans have done such a terrible job addressing their constituents’ concerns, many are simply skipping the events altogether.

So-called President Trump hasn’t tweeted much lately, but he did say, “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!” Trump is right that the confrontations are, to some extent, planned. That hardly makes them illegitimate. If Trump didn’t want to contend with an organized citizenry, he should not have sought public office in a democracy – even one as flawed as ours.

Republicans insist that protesters are paid agitators, even the millions of Americans who protested Trump’s inauguration. Protesting isn’t easy, so to believe that is to believe they’re being paid well. In reality, many protesters take time off from work to march, and many don’t have jobs with generous leave policies. Walking, shouting, braving harsh weather, making signs, risking a confrontation with the police – all of it is a sacrifice compelled by concern for the country and the world. Continue reading

DAPL standoff is textbook little guy vs. big business/big government

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On one front, militarized police in riot gear; on the other, protesters with drums.

While the news cycle remains fixated on Washington politics, the biggest story in America is unfolding in a remote region of North Dakota. In the small town of Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation, activists are defending sacred burial ground and their community’s water supply against construction of a major oil pipeline. Militarized police and private security forces are there to ensure the project is completed, arresting reporters and assaulting protesters.

In America’s hotly divided political and social climate, it’s rare to find a conflict in which one party is so clearly right and the other so clearly wrong. Continue reading

Bundy separatists: How America tolerates right-wing protest and stomps the left

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Ammon Bundy, left, and Ryan Bundy, sons of infamous rancher Cliven Bundy, are leaders in the occupation.

A group of heavily armed right-wing ranchers and self-described militiamen have occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Their stated purpose is to protest the jail sentence of father and son ranchers convicted of arson charges, Dwight and Steven Hammond. More importantly, they are protesting perceived overreach from the federal government.

Leading the occupation is Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, the rancher who made headlines in April 2014 for his armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. No shots have been fired and the group has no hostages, but they insist they are ready to defend themselves against law enforcement and claim they have enough resources to occupy the refuge for years. Continue reading

Threats against Tarantino highlight extreme police mentality

Tarantino's short speech at a Black Lives Matter rally invited strong criticism from police unions. --- Image by © M. Stan Reaves/Demotix/Corbis

Tarantino’s short speech at a Black Lives Matter rally invited strong criticism from police unions. — Image by © M. Stan Reaves/Demotix/Corbis

Following his brief speech at a demonstration against police brutality last month, director Quentin Tarantino has experienced a backlash from police unions. In particular, Fraternal Order of Police executive director, Jim Pasco, issued vaguely worded threats about surprising Tarantino and harming him economically. Perhaps he’s bluffing. But threats from police, even nonviolent ones, against a private citizen who has broken no law are totally unacceptable. Pasco highlights just how paranoid and reactionary police culture has become.

Tarantino’s remarks were not even especially controversial. USA Today reported that Pasco’s threats were in retaliation for Tarantino’s “inflammatory remarks against police brutality.” Such a premise is difficult to understand. It’s like accusing someone of making inflammatory remarks against child abuse. What’s inflammatory is police officers going on the attack against anyone who calls out their brutality. Continue reading

Ohio rejects historic marijuana legalization initiative

Medical marijuana growing at a facility in Denver. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Medical marijuana growing at a facility in Denver. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Citizens of Ohio overwhelmingly rejected Issue 3, a proposal that would have legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use. The results are a textbook example of the messiness that ensues when business, interest groups and government all get together in the legislative process. Squirrely as Issue 3 and its corollary, Issue 2, were, the state still missed an opportunity to set a historic precedent. Continue reading

School resource officers contribute to violence in schools

#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh: a school resource officer slams a student and her desk to the floor.

#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh: A school resource officer slams a student and her desk to the floor.

At a high school in South Carolina on Oct. 26, an insubordinate student was thrown out of her desk and dragged across the floor by a policeman. It’s far from the worst overreach of force demonstrated recently, but it’s deeply emblematic of America’s police problem. The so-called “school resource officer” was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Unless that investigation determines the girl had a bomb around her waist, the violence was completely uncalled for.

Disturbing video of the incident, which was widely shared on social media, certainly offers nothing to condone the officer’s actions. According to a local report, the girl was being disruptive in class and didn’t cooperate when her teacher and an administrator asked her to leave. So the officer handled the situation the only way increasing numbers of cops seem to know how – by becoming physically violent. Continue reading

Despite murder indictment, Cincinnati still reveals the deep roots of police state

Samuel DuBose argues with Officer Ray Tensing, whose hands are seen here on his body cam. Moments later, Tensing shot DuBose as he began accelerating.

Samuel DuBose argues with Officer Ray Tensing, whose hands are seen here on his body cam. Moments later, Tensing shot DuBose as he began accelerating.

A routine traffic stop in Cincinnati quickly escalated into yet another chapter in the ongoing American saga, “Cop kills unarmed black man.” University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing’s body camera shows the July 19 encounter between himself and the victim, Samuel DuBose. In the video, DuBose becomes somewhat evasive when Tensing asks for his ID, suggesting he had a license but not on him. When DuBose did not immediately comply with Tensing’s follow-up command to exit the vehicle, Tensing reached into the car, DuBose accelerated, and Tensing shot him in the head.

Unlike countless other officers in similar situations, Tensing was charged with murder for his actions. That’s a small measure of justice, but there is still plenty about the incident that speaks to the monstrousness of the police state and the judicial protections that insulate it from scrutiny. Continue reading

Baltimore mom, Toya Graham, should be proud of her son

Toya Graham grabs her protesting son and forces him to go home with her.

Toya Graham grabs her protesting son and forces him to go home with her.

Toya Graham, a single mom in Baltimore, became a viral sensation after showing up to a Freddie Gray protest, finding her son Michael among the crowd, and smacking and berating him into going home. Before their names were even known, commentary flooded social media. The consensus seemed to be that Toya did the right thing, with some even labeling her Mom of the Year. But it is her son who we should all be applauding and encouraging.

Better not to judge the parenting tactics of others – particularly single, black mothers juggling six children – so this article won’t. But the story has been widely misinterpreted as a mother shocked and appalled at her son’s riotous behavior. While Graham says she doesn’t believe violence against police is the right course to take and was disappointed in her son for potentially participating in it, the primal motivation can be heard in the video when she appears to say, “Do you want to get killed?” and in interviews afterward: Toya feared her son might end up another black kid in a headline. Continue reading