“The Right To Police Indifference”: American Citizens, Especially The Marginalized, Have No Legal Right To Police Protection
When you call 911 in an emergency, the police don’t have to respond to your call.
If someone breaks into your house or your partner threatens to hurt you, the police don’t have to respond. If you report a neighbor’s continual slashing of your tires, the cops can ignore your calls. If a cross burns in your front yard, no one from the precinct must investigate. Despite all talk of “taxpayer dollars,” your crisis is completely optional to law enforcement, even in the worst of circumstances. The public can protest and bewail this seeming governmental indifference, but no citizen is legally entitled to police protection.
Police indifference is the under-examined tragedy of the Cleveland kidnappings, in which Ariel Castro allegedly confined and raped three women for a decade in a nondescript house in a poor neighborhood. Neighbors attest to calling the police on several occasions. They recalled seeing naked girls in Castro’s yard leashed like dogs. They also saw women beating on closed windows. As long as the neighbors are relaying things accurately — and they might not be — it seems the police either made cursory glances or failed to show up at all.
But here’s the thing: According to a Supreme Court case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales, police have no legal obligation to respond to anyone’s calls, even in matters of life and death.
On June 22, 1999 in Castle Rock, Colo., Jessica Gonzales’ three daughters were abducted from her yard at 5:15 p.m. by her estranged husband, Simon. The couple had begun divorce proceedings, and Simon violated a restraining order by taking the girls outside of his specified visitation hours. Unable to locate Simon and the girls, Jessica called the local police at 7:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m., 10:10 p.m., and 12:15 a.m., following up with a visit to the station at 12:40 a.m. At 3:20 a.m., Simon appeared at the police station brandishing a gun, resulting in a fatal shootout. When the police checked his truck, they found the bodies of the three daughters in the back.
The police ignored all of Jessica’s calls and her visit to the station. Because Simon was allowed to visit the children, the police saw no need for action, even though his “visit” violated the restraining order. The police, Jessica recalled, felt that “he’s their father. It’s okay for him to be with them.” After her third call, they forbid her from calling until midnight.
Jessica’s protection order featured a mandatory arrest clause in the event Simon violated his visitation scheme. Mandatory, to a reasonable person, entails an imperative not open for interpretation. Still, the police viewed the protection order as optional.
The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Jessica had no enforceable right to protection, despite the arrest clause. Justice Antonin Scalia saw no contradiction in the police inaction, arguing that “a well-established tradition of police discretion has long coexisted with apparently mandatory arrest statutes.” Castle Rock’s indifference to Jessica’s pleas and dead children falls under this constitutional veil of “discretion.”
Assessing the urgency of emergency is everyday police triage. Bank robberies get priority over cats in trees, and violent behavior takes precedence over noise complaints. Threats of harm are more important to police than residential minutiae, and discretion allows the department to deploy officers effectively and efficiently.
But there is a dark side to police discretion, and it disproportionately affects disadvantaged groups. Domestic violence calls are often dismissed as private matters between lovers, and women’s problems can be viewed as hysterical theatrics by male officers. Response time in wealthier neighborhoods far outstrips those of poor communities. And notoriously, “discretion” stands as the primary justification for racial profiling.
A 1996 study on police responses to crime found that the race of the victim and offender significantly affected police responsiveness. White victims received quicker responses and better follow-up. Black victims fared much worse. Differential racial outcomes stem from discretion, which plainly means the issues police find attention-worthy. Sadly, this turns objectively illegal crimes into subjectively important options.
It’s not entirely surprising that demographics influence access to public services. What is more surprising — and shocking — is the categorical protection of clear police ignorance, which puts police departments beyond reproach. Police are generally freed of responsibility for the citizens they are supposed to protect.
For over 10 years, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were hidden in plain sight, but outside the scope of police interest. When neighbors called for help, their pleas apparently fell on deaf ears. It’s clear that citizens — especially the marginalized — have no legal right to police protection. If you are a female resident of a poor, minority community in one of the poorest cities in America, you’re on your own.
By: Kevin Noble Maillard, The Week, May 17, 2013
I’m not an expert in gun buyback programs, but the basic idea seems pretty straightforward. In the hopes of getting more guns off the streets, there are organized events in which members of the public bring their firearms, and exchange them for cash. They’re usually publicly funded, though as Rachel noted on the show in March, some are privately financed.
But what matters is the point of the programs: removing guns from circulation. It’s possible Arizona Republicans find this confusing.
Arizona cities and counties that hold community gun buyback events will have to sell the surrendered weapons instead of destroying them under a bill Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law Monday.
The bill was championed by Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature who argued that municipalities were skirting a 2010 law that was tightened last year and requires police to sell seized weapons to federally licensed dealers. They argued that destroying property turned over to the government is a waste of taxpayer resources.
Hmm. Let’s say a local sheriff’s office in Arizona wants to reduce gun violence in its community by getting more guns off the streets. The sheriff decides to do this through a gun buyback program, encouraging local citizens to participate in exchange for money, helping to keep weapons out of the hands of children and criminals. The guns are then destroyed.
Under a new law championed by state Republicans, however, that sheriff’s office can’t destroy the guns — the firearms collected during the buyback will instead be brought to gun stores, where they then can be sold and put back on the streets.
The Arizona GOP wants to turn gun buyback programs into gun recycling programs — watch the assault rifle go from the street … to the police … to the gun dealers … back to the street.
Let’s all marvel at the cycle of life, or more accurately in this case, death.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 30, 2013
“Soft On Crime”: The NRA And Republicans Protecting The “Second Amendment Rights” Of Thugs And Terrorists
What can Americans learn from the bitter debate over the gun reform bill? Perhaps the most obvious lesson is that the leadership of the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners of America, and their tame Republican politicians have all earned an epithet of derision they used to hurl regularly at liberals.
Yes, the gun lobby and its legislative servants are “soft on crime” — although they routinely pretend to be tough on criminals.
During the Clinton presidency, NRA president-for-life Wayne LaPierre raised vast amounts of money with direct-mail campaigns against both Bill and Hillary Clinton for supposedly coddling criminals. Dubbed “Crimestrike,” the NRA crusade pushed prison construction, mandatory minimum sentencing, and sundry other panaceas designed to position the NRA as the bane of muggers, rapists, and murderers. Those themes echoed traditional Republican propaganda messages dating back to the Nixon era, when the presidential crook himself often derided judicial concerns about civil liberties and promised to restore “law and order.” (When Nixon henchmen like the late Chuck Colson went to prison themselves, they often emerged as prison reformers and civil libertarians, of course.)
But in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, with the NRA angrily opposing any measure designed to hinder criminals from acquiring firearms, the public is learning who is really soft on crime.
Police officials across the country want universal background checks, magazine limits, and stronger enforcement against illegal weapons sales, but the NRA and its Republican allies insist that such changes will penalize legitimate gun owners. Or they complain that criminals mainly obtain weapons by stealing them, so restrictions on sales won’t make any difference.
Even a cursory examination of the facts demonstrates those claims are false. Gun trafficking experts at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have long known that less than 15 percent of all crime guns are stolen from their original owners. Much more common sources of guns used by criminals are so-called “straw purchases,” where a person with a clean record buys a gun on behalf of a criminal, and corrupt purchases, where a licensed gun dealer knowingly sells to a criminal. Bipartisan gun legislation now before the Senate would crack down on these sales, by increasing penalties for straw purchasers who willfully help criminals buy guns. The NRA has offered tepid support for that provision — but it is virtually meaningless without universal background checks, which the gun lobby opposes.
As Will Saletan pointed out in Slate last January, the NRA has consistently (and successfully) sought to kill the most basic efforts to keep guns away from convicted criminals and other dangerous characters — including abusive spouses under court protection orders, drug dealers, and even individuals listed on the Justice Department’s terrorist watch list.
In the wake of the Boston bombing, as the nation ponders how to bolster its security, the gun lobby’s tender concern for the Second Amendment “rights” of terrorists and thugs ought to permanently discredit them and their political servants. Instead they have achieved another bloody victory in Washington.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, April 18, 2013
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a long-time ally of the National Rifle Association with an “A” rating, appeared on MSNBC this morning and expressed his frustration with the far-right group. The conservative Democrat lamented how “disingenuous” the NRA has become, and criticizing the organization for telling “lies.”
Manchin added, “If you lose credibility — if you don’t have credibility, you have nothing.” If the NRA fails to correct its falsehoods, “they’ve lost everything in Washington.”
Clearly, the NRA will take its chances. Indeed, it’s launching a new ad campaign, claiming that 80% of police officers believe background checks will have no effect on violent crime. Is that true? Actually, no — William Saletan explained today it’s a “bald-faced lie.”
If you read the methodology posted at the bottom, you’ll see that it isn’t really a poll, since it wasn’t conducted by random sampling. It was “promoted” to the site’s members and was easy to flood with advocates of a particular viewpoint. (To give you some idea of how biased the sample is, 62 percent of those who participated in the poll say, in question 15, that if they were a sheriff or a chief of police, they would not enforce more restrictive gun laws.) But set that problem aside. The bigger problem, in terms of the NRA’s ad, is that the poll never asks whether background checks will have an effect on violent crime.
In other words, the NRA isn’t even lying well.
And yet, thanks at least in part to Republican obstructionist tactics, the NRA and their falsehoods are poised to prevail on Capitol Hill anyway.
Saletan added, “The NRA’s ad is a lie. It flunks a simple background check. Senators should ask themselves what else the NRA is lying about.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 17, 2013
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 45 years ago yesterday, and one of the interesting little sidelights to the debate over guns that you might not be aware of is that gun advocates claim King as one of their own. You see, King had armed guards protect his family, and at one point applied for a permit in Alabama to carry a concealed weapon himself. He was turned down, since in the Jim Crow days the state of Alabama wasn’t about to let black men carry guns.
You can find references to these facts on all kinds of pro-gun web sites, as nonsensical as it may seem. Gun advocates want to claim King as part of their cause, but also want to completely repudiate everything he believed about the power of nonviolence, which is kind of like Exxon saying John Muir would have favored drilling for oil in Yosemite because he sometimes rode in cars. The reason Martin Luther King sought armed protection was there were significant numbers of people who wanted to kill him, and eventually one of them succeeded. If you’re a target for assassination, you should go ahead and buy a gun. But most of us aren’t.
This gets back to the threatening world so many gun advocates believe they live in. As they tell it, every one of us needs an arsenal of handguns and shotguns and AR-15s, despite the risk they might pose to ourselves and our families, because the risk from outside is so much greater. The imagine themselves as vulnerable as a civil rights activist in the Deep South in 1968. And they also believe that the authorities that are charged with our protection are indifferent or even hostile to our safety. That was certainly the case with King and other civil rights activists in the South in the 1960s; they knew that the government and the police wouldn’t be there to protect them, and some might even participate in trying to harm them.
But guess what: that’s not the world we live in today. The idea that the government is going to come knocking down your door, and you need to be ready to engage in a firefight with the police when that happens, is as ludicrous as the idea that MLK would be an advocate for further proliferation of guns if he were alive today.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 5, 2013