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“It’s Not Just Ferguson – It’s All Of America”: The Drift Towards Police As Warrior Cops Instead Of Guardians Of The People

There’s a very good chance that your local police arrest black Americans at a rate more disproportional than in Ferguson, MO, where the police killing of unarmed Michael Brown unleashed decades of anger over police abuse.

The awful truth is that Ferguson Police Department’s nearly 3-to-1 disparity in arresting blacks is well below the norm in many cities and towns, including those far north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

With a grand jury poised to decide any day now whether the white officer who shot Brown six times will be indicted — which seems unlikely — new protests will focus attention on Ferguson. But what we really need is a debate about the role of police, their training and their discretion.

We need to restore the idea of police as guardians. We must bring an end to the changes that libertarian journalist Radley Balko details in his important book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

Reporters for USA Today brought to light the disproportionate arrest rates. They analyzed Uniform Crime Report data that local police departments sent to the FBI for 2011 and 2012.

Only 173 of 3,538 police departments arrested blacks at disproportionately low rates, while Ferguson PD and 1,581 other departments arrested blacks at rates significantly higher than their share of the local population.

In big cities like tolerant and cosmopolitan San Francisco and small ones like Duluth, the data reveal arrest rates by race far more troubling than those in Ferguson. In 70 cities from coast to coast, police arrest black people at 10 times the rate of people who are not black.

These numbers help explain the palpable resentment of young black men and the fears of parents.

Disparate arrest rates tell us that the legacy of slavery is far from over, no matter how blind our Supreme Court is with its decisions on voting, procedural rights and executions.

Ferguson is part of a subtle new racist phenomenon, a modern variation on “sundown towns,” which literally posted crude signs telling blacks not to be around after dark.

Back when Ferguson was mostly a white working-class town, the police chained a street leading to a neighboring black community to make a point about who belonged and who was unwelcome. Now Ferguson is mostly black, but its elected leaders and its police force are almost all white.

Today’s tactics of oppression and racial profiling defile our Constitution and waste taxpayer money.

Ezekiel Edwards, who runs the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project, told USA Today, “We shouldn’t continue to see this kind of staggering disparity wherever we look.”

The question to ask ourselves is whether we look at all.

This disparity in arrests occurs even in Rochester, New York, which before the Civil War was among the few places that gave runaway slaves refuge and became the adopted home of the most famous among them, Frederick Douglass, and his abolitionist newspaper The North Star.

Blacks in Rochester were 2.4 times more likely to be arrested than whites in 2011 and 2012, the official data show. The Rochester city rates may reflect an ongoing gang war fueled by drug dealing in the fifth poorest city in America. But what about the surrounding suburbs, where arrest rates were vastly out of proportion?

I live five blocks south of the Rochester city line in the town of Brighton, a community of highly educated people from around the world and known for social consciousness. Brighton arrests black people at 6.4 times their share of the population, more than twice the rate of Ferguson, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported.

One could excuse that by saying, who knew? But that is just an excuse.

The right questions: Why didn’t we know? What public purpose is being served by these arrests? Do the arrests have a solid basis or do they serve to harass? Who was arrested and what for? Are these arrests for serious crimes or petty reasons? How many of these arrests result in convictions? Do these arrests help justify the current size — and expense — of our police force? Do people of color believe the police want them to feel unwelcome?

After that comes the most important question, the one that is needed to move us from thought to action: What will we do about this?

Arrest rates are an indicator, not a diagnosis, of social ills. Reading the comments in several Gannett newspapers (which include USA Today as a separate section), it is clear many people assume a direct correlation between arrests and criminal activity. However, the problem may be not with those arrested, but with the police.

We imbue police officers with enormous discretion, as exhaustively detailed in six years of litigation over the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration believed it was reducing crime by detaining young non-white males, though it would never put it quite that way. If such strategies worked, then why didn’t NYPD harass the Wall Street bankers whose white-collar crimes sank the economy six years ago?


Curiously missing from the stop-and-frisk debate was whether it was nothing more than featherbedding; creating needless work to justify the size of the NYPD and its outsized overtime costs.

Eric T. Schneiderman, the state attorney general, issued a report examining 150,000 NYPD arrests from 2009 through 2012. Just one in 33 arrests resulted in a conviction of any kind, and just 1 in 1,000 in a conviction for a violent crime. But processing all those arrests created statistics that the NYPD used to assert that officers were being productive — not to mention earning overtime for end-of-shift collars.

You can examine the NYPD’s own data on stop-and-frisk from 2003 through 2013. In that last year police stopped, questioned, and frisked about 2,200 people per day – more than seven times as many as in 2002.

To get an idea of why so many white Americans see police differently from so many black Americans, read this very interesting and simple matrix showing differences in arrest rates between an area near New York University and a poor neighborhood near Yankee Stadium.

Current New York City mayor Bill de Blasio settled the case in January 2014 with a promise to stop the excessive use of stop-and-frisk.

Favoritism by police is not always racial. It can by favoritism for celebrities, as we’ve seen in the recent New York Times exposés of apparently criminal conduct by college and National Football League players who assaulted women, mistreated children and fled traffic accidents they caused. The victims discovered that the police were indeed guardians – of the offenders.

Abundant signs exist that police across America tend to treat those not privileged with white skin – and affluence – with greater suspicion.

How else to explain the story a worried Rochester executive tells? Several times a month his adult son, who works into the night, gets pulled over on the way home. As best the family can tell, some cops see reasonable cause for a stop in these facts: young black male in expensive new car driving alone after midnight.

How, other than racism, to explain a daytime traffic stop on Sunset Boulevard in which a middle-aged black man in a Rolls Royce, his daughters in the back seat, was ordered out at gunpoint? Without permission, officers ransacked his leather satchel until they found something that caused them fear and alarm – a badge identifying the driver as No. 3 in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

Most white Americans have never had a cop pull them over for no reason except that they seemed out of place, as the late Johnny Cochran did in 1979. I have. In Beverly Hills and in Longport, NJ, officers whose initial demeanor was hostile pulled me over in broad daylight. The basis of their suspicions? My Toyota Corolla, its paint dulled by the years, looked out of place in towns whose residents drive luxury cars.

Police who instill fear are not police who catch bad guys, because it is citizens informing the police who solve crimes. Police who see “black skin” and “criminal” as synonymous need to be fired. And the burden for addressing these problems should fall squarely where it belongs – on the white majority whose values, and blindness, allow the drift towards police as warrior cops instead of guardians of the people.


By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, November 20, 2014

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Black Men, Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Were Strangers Once Too”: President Obama Announces Executive Order For Deportation Relief

President Barack Obama on Thursday announced plans to sign an executive order sparing up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation, arguing that congressional inaction left him little choice but to use his executive authority on the issue.

In the summer of 2013, Obama noted, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill on a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote, raising advocates’ hopes that an overhaul was in sight. But House Speaker John Boehner never brought the measure to a House vote, and Obama took Congress to task for its failure to act in his Thursday evening address. House Republicans, Obama charged, “refused to allow that simple vote.”

Until Congress moves on the issue, Obama said, the best path forward is executive action. In his speech, the president laid out a three-point plan. First, the U.S. will beef up border security and continue to focus on capturing unauthorized migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. The president will also establish incentives that will keep highly skilled immigrants in the country — a top priority for GOP-leaning business groups, Finally — and most controversially — Obama said his administration would “deal responsibly” with unauthorized immigrants already in the country.

Emphasizing that the U.S. would continue to deport immigrants deemed security threats, Obama said that he would order agencies to prioritize the most dangerous unauthorized immigrants for deportation. “Felons, not families” and “criminals, not children” would be the focus of U.S. enforcement efforts, the president said. The president referenced the nation’s immigrant history, saying, “we were strangers once too.”

The president’s plan expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for those brought to the U.S. as minors; the program will no longer have an age cap. More crucially — contingent on passing a background check — parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents who have themselves been in the U.S. for at least five years will be spared deportation. That protection alone affects an estimated 4 million people.

Obama cautioned that the changes do not apply to any migrants who recently arrived in the U.S. or those who may come in the future.

The president’s invocation of executive authority on the issue drew the ire of conservative Republicans, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said executive action would represent a “defiance of the people.” The president is poised for a showdown with the GOP over the issue when a unified GOP Congress takes control in January.

“The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half century,”  Obama said in his address. “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.”

Progressives cheered the president’s announcement.

“Today, parents who have lived here for years and had to constantly worry that they could be torn away from their children will no longer have to look over their shoulders. With House Republicans continuing to block immigration reform legislation in Congress, the president is taking a bold step that is fully within his authority to begin fixing the system,” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a former Obama administration aide.


By: Luke Brinker, Salon, November 20, 2014

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, Immigration Reform, Presidential Powers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Changing The Way The Votes Are Counted”: Republicans Revive Bold Scheme To Rig Presidential Elections

After Republicans failed to capture the White House in 2012, they dusted off a tried-and-true plan to improve their future electoral prospects. No, they wouldn’t moderate their views or expand their appeal to win votes. They would just change the way that the votes are counted!

The plan: to rig the electoral college with the ultimate goal of squeaking out a Republican presidential win, even in an increasingly challenging electoral landscape.

Here’s how it was supposed to work.

Before the 2010 election, Republican strategists focused energy and resources on gaining control of state legislatures, and succeeded in flipping party control of legislative chambers in blue states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. This allowed Republican legislatures to draw congressional districts, gerrymandering their states to ensure future Republican gains even in states where Democrats tend to win statewide.

GOP strategists then took it a step further. What if Republicans used their control over these blue states and their favorably gerrymandered electoral maps to make it harder for Democrats to win presidential elections?

Under the Constitution, each state determines how it will distribute its electoral votes to presidential candidates. All but two states (Maine and Nebraska) have a “winner take all” system, in which the winner of the state’s popular vote earns all of its electoral votes. The Republican plan would keep the “winner take all” system in big, solidly red states like Texas. But it would change it in big, blue states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, ensuring that a Democratic candidate who wins the popular vote in the state doesn’t go home with all of its electoral votes.

For instance, under the plan originally proposed in Pennsylvania after the 2012 election, which would have divided the state’s electoral votes up by gerrymandered congressional districts, Mitt Romney would have won 13 of the state’s 20 electoral votes, despite having lost the state’s popular vote. Last year, the Republican-controlled state house in the presidential swing state of Virginia put forward a plan to do something similar. If the Virginia plan had been in effect in 2012, Mitt Romney would have carried away nine of the state’s 13 electoral vote, despite having lost the state’s popular vote to Barack Obama.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus made the goal of the scheme clear when he endorsed it last year, saying, “I think it’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at.”

The proposals in Pennsylvania and Virginia sank after groups like People For the American Way got out the word and residents realized the proposals were part of a blatant political ploy. But this month, the scheme was resurrected in Michigan, where a Republican state lawmaker is proposing his own plan to dilute the power of his state’s reliably Democratic electoral college block. Under the plan introduced by Rep. Pete Lund, Michigan’s electoral votes would be distributed according to a formula tied to the popular vote. It’s not as blatant as the original Pennsylvania and Virginia proposals were, but it has the same goal: If it had been in effect in the last presidential election, it would have cut President Obama’s electoral total in Michigan down to 12 from 16.

These plans can initially seem reasonable, even to progressives, many of whom are wary of the electoral college system. But this isn’t a good-government plan to change the way our presidential elections are conducted. It’s a targeted plot to get more electoral votes for Republicans, even when they’re losing the popular vote. It’s no coincidence that these plans have often been quietly introduced in lame duck sessions, when voters are paying less attention. These measures, if allowed to be passed quickly in a few states with little debate and attention, could have national implications and change American political history.

Voters should be allowed to pick their politicians. But this is yet another case of politicians trying to pick their voters. Like with voter suppression schemes and extreme gerrymandering, the GOP is trying to change the rules of the game for their own benefit. Voters can’t let them get away with it.


By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Huffington Post Blog, November 20, 2014

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, Electoral Colege, Gerrymandering | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Get A Grip”: GOP Senator Warns Of ‘Anarchy’ And ‘Violence’

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele appeared on msnbc yesterday, and when host Alex Wagner asked what kind of advice he’d give his party’s leaders in Congress, Steele offered some sound advice. “The first would be, ‘Get a grip,’” he said.

Steele’s comments came to mind after reading this report published last night by USA Today.

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn warns there could be not only a political firestorm but acts of civil disobedience and even violence in reaction to President Obama’s executive order on immigration Thursday.

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” Coburn said on Capital Download. “You’re going to see – hopefully not – but you could see instances of anarchy. … You could see violence.”

The far-right senator went on to say, “Here’s how people think: Well, if the law doesn’t apply to the president … then why should it apply to me?”

It’s hard to know what to make of such an odd perspective. If Coburn is correct, why weren’t there similar outbursts of anarchy and violence when Presidents Reagan and Bush took very similar executive actions? If the masses are so deeply concerned about separation of powers and the often-ambiguous lines surrounding executive authority, wouldn’t we have seen instances of pandemonium before?

As a practical matter, I’m not even sure how this would work. The Obama administration has limited resources, so it appears likely to prioritize deportations for criminals who entered the country illegally. So, in Coburn’s vision, anti-immigrant activists will become violent, perhaps literally rioting in the street, until more unobtrusive families are broken up?

Brian Beutler reminded Republicans overnight that “just because right-wingers are blind with rage doesn’t mean Obama’s immigration action is illegal.”

It turns out that the laws on the books actually don’t say what you might think they say. Other presidents have discovered this, too. And since nobody wants to write a “maybe I should’ve asked some lawyers first” mea culpa column, they shifted the debate from the terrain of laws to the murkier terrain of political precedent, norms, and procedure. […]

What’s new is that Republicans have perfected a strategy of rejectionism with the help of a media amplification infrastructure—Fox News, Drudge, Limbaugh—that the left hasn’t adopted and doesn’t yet enjoy. Rather than simply fight to reverse the policy in Congress and on the campaign trail—as liberals do when Republicans weaken environmental enforcement—the right can also now scream “Caesar!” without reference to any objective standards, and get a full hearing.

“Get a grip,” indeed.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 20, 2014

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Immigrants, Immigration Reform, Tom Coburn | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ensuring A Fair Policy”: Reagan And Bush Acted Unilaterally On Immigration, Too—For The Same Reason That Obama Will

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that two previous Republican presidentsRonald Reagan and George H.W. Bushhad taken unilateral action to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, and the political reaction was much less vitriolic than what Obama has faced as he prepares to make a similar move. Conservatives, notably The Atlantic’s David Frum and National Review’s Mark Krikorian, quickly pushed back. Frum argues that, while legal, Obama’s upcoming executive action would be an unprecedented violation of political norms. Krikorian goes further, calling it “Caesarism, pure and simple.” But in the end, though they differ in their vehemence, both Krikorian and Frum’s analyses do more to reveal the flaws in the conservative position than prove the lawlessness of Obama’s upcoming action.

Krikorian and Frum’s main argument is that Reagan and Bush’s unilateral actions were simply fixes to the 1986 immigration law that granted green cards to three million undocumented immigrants. Reagan and Bush discovered that, due to an unintended consequence of that law, many spouses and kids of newly-legalized immigrants faced deportation, potentially tearing families apart. In response, Reagan and Bush implemented “cleanup measures,” as Krikorian terms them: In 1987, Reagan’s Immigration and Naturalization Service announced that kids of newly-legalized immigrants would not be deported; Bush extended those protections to spouses in 1991.

According to Krikorian and Frum, these actions reflected Congress’s intentions because the legislative branch codified Reagan and Bush’s executive action into law in 1992. “Reagan and Bush acted in conjunction with Congress and in furtherance of a congressional purpose,” Frum writes. “Nobody wanted to deport the still-illegal husband of a newly legalized wife. Reagan’s (relatively small) and Bush’s (rather larger) executive actions tidied up these anomalies.” In other words, it would be unfair if Reagan and Bush deported children and spouses of newly-legalized immigrants. In fact, Bush’s executive action was called the “family fairness” program.

In contrast, they argue, Obama’s executive action is not what Congress intended. “A new order would not further a congressional purpose,” Frum writes. “It is intended to overpower and overmaster a recalcitrant Congress.” Krikorian was even more emphatic: “Whatever their merits, the Reagan and Bush measures were modest attempts at faithfully executing legislation duly enacted by Congress. Obama’s planned amnesty decree is Caesarism, pure and simple.”

What both Frum and Krikorian’s analyses fail to explain is how Obama’s planned action is not a faithful attempt at executing the law. You can’t argue that Obama’s “order would not further a congressional purpose” without explaining what Congress’s purposes are in passing immigration laws. This error isn’t unique to Frum or Krikorian: Conservatives often fail to use a legal framework in analyzing Obama’s action.

In August, I employed such a framework to explain why Obama’s executive action is legal because it’s based on the idea of prosecutorial discretionthe federal government has only limited resources to implement laws and must prioritize them accordingly. But prosecutorial discretion has limits because Congress has the sole authority to write laws. If the president’s actions do not uphold Congress’s prioritiesor, in Frum’s words, further a congressional purposeit crosses the line into lawmaking.

A major priority of immigration law is deterrence. The more the federal government allows undocumented immigrants to stay and work legally in the United States, the more it incentivizes foreigners to come here illegally. That’s why conservatives see Obama’s executive actions as an unfaithful execution of the law. But Congress has other, competing priorities in passing legislation. They want laws to be uniform, predictable and fair, for instance.

When the federal government implements immigration law, it must balance these priorities. In other words, the benefits of making the immigration system fairer must be greater than the costs of reducing deterrence. To an extent, of course, these are subjective judgments. But as long as Obama, or any president, for that matter, is implementing the law in line with congressional prioritiesas I believe Obama ishis actions are legal.

In applying this framework to Obama’s upcoming executive action, the law supports the administration’s position. The change in immigration policy may remove a deterrent for foreigners considering illegally immigrating to the U.S. But the drop in deterrence is small, since the potential beneficiaries of Obama’s action must have lived in the U.S. continuously for many years. Foreigners cannot come into the country illegally under the expectation that the president will soon grant them protection from deportations.

On the other hand, the benefits of these actions are significant. They allow undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, work legally, and receive legal protections under U.S. law. They no longer have to worry about a discriminatory immigration system. Maybe most importantly, the new policy will prevent families from being torn apartwhich was the main reason behind Reagan and Bush’s executive actions, which Frum and Krikorian believe was justified.

It’s impossible to pick a specific point where the costs outweigh the benefits of Obama’s actions. As Obama shields more undocumented immigrants from deportation, the costs of the policy grow significantly. He risks crossing the line from upholding congressional priorities into lawmaking. But conservatives haven’t offered a legal framework to explain how Obama’s expected executive action crosses that line. Bush and Reagan’s actions were legally acceptable for the same reason Obama’s would be: ensuring that our immigration policy is fair.


By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, November 19, 2014

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Immigrants, Immigration Reform, Presidential Powers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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