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“More Accountability”: Police Shooting Shows Need For Major Changes, Advocates Say

There would have been no charges filed against a North Charleston, S.C., police officer this week without a video shot by a witness, many, including the mayor of North Charleston, are saying.

Video brings more accountability, and that’s why some South Carolina state lawmakers will be pushing hard next week to pass a bill requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras.

But proposals beyond the body cameras are needed to ensure police accountability, some say. They say:

  • State law should require that the State Law Enforcement Division, as an outside agency, investigate each time an officer fires a weapon in South Carolina.
  • All police agencies should be required by law to collect racial profiling data and turn that over to SLED, as a previous state law intended.

The body camera bill will get a hearing in the state Senate as soon as next week and quickly move on from there, a key senator said Wednesday.

The bill, introduced in December by Senator Gerald Malloy (D-Darlington), already has had three hearings this year in a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee chaired by Senator Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg).

Hutto said he hopes his committee soon will pass the bill out to the full Judiciary Committee, which could consider it later this month.

In his subcommittee’s three hearings on body cameras, Hutto said, most witnesses -– including many from the state’s law enforcement community -– expressed overwhelming support for using cameras.

Concerns, raised by victims advocate groups and others, include privacy and Freedom of Information request issues, as well as costs of the cameras and data storage, Hutto said.

A revenue impact study done for Malloy’s bill estimates it would cost some $21 million to equip most state and local law officers with body cameras the first year, and $12 million per year after that.

Malloy said any costs of body cameras should be balanced with the costs of unnecessary police shootings, follow-up investigations and bad publicity for South Carolina –- such as Wednesday’s New York Times front-page photographs from the video of a North Charleston officer shooting a man in the back as he runs away.

Body cameras will act as a deterrent and might well have prevented the North Charleston shooting, Malloy said. “If that officer in North Charleston had been wearing a body camera, I don’t think he draws the weapon,” he said.

“We know that body cameras work. Good police officers don’t really mind,” Malloy said. “Complaints go down from citizens, and officers can use the videos for training.”

Hutto is enthusiastic. Law officers who testified “before our committee thought it was a great idea. It helps gather evidence, it’s great for community relations, it’s good for officer safety, and it acts as a deterrent to bad conduct on the part of both officers and citizens alike,” he said.

Hutto downplayed the initial multimillion-dollar costs. After all, when the idea of police car video cameras were introduced years ago, many people said they would cost too much, Hutto said. But the state decided to pay most of the costs by enacting a one hudred dollar fee on people convicted of DUI, and that fee has substantially helped pay for police car videos –- which nearly everyone now agrees are a great asset, he said.

“Over the years, we’ve collected millions of dollars,” Hutto said. “The vast majority of the cars on the streets now, when the blue lights go on, the camera goes on.”

Senator Marlon Kimpson, whose district includes North Charleston, where the latest shooting took place, is a co-sponsor of Malloy’s body camera bill.

University of South Carolina School of Law professor Colin Miller said Wednesday he shows law students in his criminal law and evidence classes many videos of officer-involved shootings, but all up to now raise at least some possibility the officer had justification for shooting.

“As far as video clips I’ve seen, this (North Charleston clip) is probably the most compelling,” Miller said. “Based on what’s shown in the video, it looks a lot like a homicide.”

Meanwhile, Representative Joe Neal (D-Richland), a leader in the Legislative black caucus, said he is introducing legislation that would require an outside law agency to investigate any officer-involved shooting.

“That will help ensure some level of objectivity and fairness,” Neal said. “There are some departments that now insist they can do an in-house investigation. I don’t think any law agency should investigate itself.”

USC’s Miller said he strongly supports independent, outside investigations of officers involved in shootings.

Now, SLED investigates only at the invitation of local or other state police agencies.

SLED has no authority to take over an investigation, and local police are not required by law to report such shootings.

While all agencies can opt not to invite SLED in, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department routinely does not turn over investigations of its officer-involved shootings to SLED or another outside agency.

Sheriff Leon Lott said he turned to in-house probes starting in 2014 because he feels his department has the investigative expertise, a competent crime lab, and the public trust to conduct proper investigations of its own deputies.

Police face tough decisions and, often, heavily armed and dangerous criminals.

So it’s right that they are given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to spilt-second decisions, experts say.

Even so, charging, and convicting, an officer of mishandling a shooting incident is rare in South Carolina, experts say.

Police in South Carolina have fired their weapons at 209 suspects in the past five years, and a handful of officers have been accused of pulling the trigger illegally –- but none has been convicted, according to an analysis of five years’s worth of data by The State newspaper.

The solicitor for Charleston and Berkeley counties, Scarlett Wilson, has not brought charges against an officer in at least the past five years.

During that time, there have been 23 police-involved shootings there, 17 of them in Charleston County, according to SLED data from 2010-15 examined by The State.

With SLED investigating, there’s not only a better chance at accountability, experts say. There’s a better chance for better data collection and analysis.

With one agency in charge, there would be a central location for collecting information and, presumably, more consistency and better chances to spot a trend –- good or bad.

Because SLED’s data now comes in from the various agencies and often does not contain the race of the officers, for example, which makes trends or possible racial profiling difficult to detect.

Data collection matters, Neal said, whether from shootings or from traffic stops, for seat-belt violations or other reasons.

“There needs to be some teeth in the law,” said Neal, noting there is already a law but that it only applies to non-ticketed police encounters and has no penalty in it for agencies who do not report the data to SLED.

In 2005, Neal was part of an effort to include a provision mandating the collection of racial profiling data in a pending mandatory seat belt bill.

Although many white lawmakers objected, Neal and others supported a long-stalled bill mandating seat belt use after a provision stipulating law agencies must collect race data on encounters between police and citizens.

That provision required all state and local law enforcement agencies to complete a form listing the race of the driver in traffic stops in which a citation is not issued. Police already collect race and other data in most other stops involving a ticket.

But Neal said Wednesday the racial profiling measure in the seat belt isn’t working because only a minority of law agencies report that data to SLED as required by law.

During the past 15 years, there have been some 550 reported police shootings in South Carolina, SLED’s records indicate. That’s an annual average of 36 shootings.

Other information is more difficult to come by, gleaned only by digging through SLED’s voluminous files.

Last month, a University of South Carolina professor told The State that it is embarrassing that no one knows exactly how often police fire at or kill suspects in the United States or South Carolina, and that lack of sufficient information makes it harder to grapple with the controversial issue, a criminal justice professor said.

“The government is very aggressive about giving us numbers to protect us from the free market,” the University of South Carolina’s Geoff Alpert, a nationally recognized expert on police use of force issues, said in an interview. “But not much when it comes to our civil liberties.”

Malloy said he plans to introduce another bill next week in the Senate.

It will prevent police from charging bystanders with a crime if they are videotaping a police encounter with a citizen.

“It will allow our citizens to go on and break out their cameras,” Malloy said.

“Pictures are worth a thousand words,” the senator said. “And thank goodness for this picture.”

 

By: John Monk, The National Memo, April 9, 2015

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Police Shootings, Racial Profiling, South Carolina Legislature | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Anti-Government Shindig”: Cliven Bundy Hosts ‘Freedom Celebration’ One Year Later

It’s hard to forget the armed confrontation between federal law enforcement and Cliven Bundy’s well-armed supporters in Nevada. In fact, the standoff, which the Obama administration, in the interest of public safety, chose not to escalate, was exactly one year ago.

The L.A. Times noted that the controversial rancher, who claims not to recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, threw a “shindig” over the weekend – a “freedom celebration” to honor the anniversary.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of when federal agents swooped onto the public lands near Bundy’s ranch to round up hundreds of cattle that the 67-year-old had been grazing without permits. The land is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The raid didn’t go well: Hundreds of supporters – self-named citizen militiamen, many with semiautomatic weapons – rallied around their new leader, creating at tense standoff between two armed camps. In the end, on last April 12, the federal government backed down, released the cattle agents had corralled and – poof! – vanished.

The underlying dispute has not been resolved. Bundy has still ignored multiple court orders and still owes the United States more than $1 million after he was fined for grazing on protected land.

Bundy’s posture, as a long-term proposition, remains unsustainable – a fact he seems to realize. “It’s hard to tell, but the feds, they’re probably going to do something,” Bundy told the L.A. Times. “[T]hey’re probably just standing back, looking at things.”

He added, however, in reference to the Bureau of Land Management, “They know if they make a move, they’ll upset America. And I don’t think they want to do that.”

It’s an ominous choice of words from a fringe activist who may not enjoy quite as much support as he thinks he has.

Remember, Republicans and conservative media personalities quickly elevated Cliven Bundy to folk-hero status early last year, right up until some of his racist views came to light.

Suddenly, the right was forced to reevaluate whether they were prepared to stand behind a racist lawbreaker who doesn’t recognize the United States and whose supporters pointed high-powered weapons at American law enforcement.

I’m reminded, in particular, of Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) who said last April, “I am very quick in calling American citizens ‘patriots.’ Maybe in this case, too quick.” Around the same time, the Nevada affiliate of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity started scrubbing their online messages offering praise for Bundy and his radical campaign.

In April 2014, Bundy was a cause celebre for the far-right and anti-government voices. In April 2015, his “freedom celebration” enjoyed less national support. If he’s assuming “America” will be “upset” if there are consequences for his defiance of the rule of law, he’s probably going to be disappointed.

Postscript: ThinkProgress noted a bill in the Nevada legislature, sometimes referred to as the “Bundy Bill,” intended to empower the state to seize federal properties Nevada wants to control. The legislation seems to be a brazenly unconstitutional scheme, but it’s nevertheless working its way through the Republican-led legislature.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 13, 2015

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Anti-Government, Bureau of Land Management, Cliven Bundy | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Bane Of Political Life In America”: For Conservatives, Government Coercion Is Bad — Except When It’s Not

For conservatives, government coercion is the bane of political life in America. As members of the self-styled anti-government party, they very much are interested in making the case that coercion is inherently illegitimate, whether it is a law requiring you to purchase health care or a law requiring businesses to serve LGBT customers. The problem with this logic is that all laws are coercive — even the ones conservatives like.

Last week, I wrote about the intrinsic coerciveness of all laws in the context of protecting LGBT people from discrimination, which prompted a hilarious yet telling reaction from Sean Davis at The Federalist.

Davis, possibly because he quite obviously did not even read past the first couple paragraphs of my post, is not just wrong, but has missed the entire axis of debate. However, he does inadvertently provide a great example of just why conservatives are ill-advised to admit that all laws are coercive. Because if this is true, then conservatives will have to give up one of their favorite rhetorical tropes — being against coercion in the name of individual liberty — or resort to outright hypocrisy.

The argument was not about LGBT laws in themselves, something Davis failed to grasp. Instead it was about the justification of such laws. My position is that being against government coercion is not legitimate grounds on which to oppose any policy. This applies to liberals, too, though as members of the pro-government faction they generally don’t worry about it much.

But conservatives do. Most of what is referred to as “government” in popular media is liberal stuff like Social Security, Medicare, or food stamps. Labeling those programs as coercion gives conservatives a convenient pro-liberty sheen when they’re talking about slashing poor people’s incomes.

That changes when you bring up things like property. Though ordinary people rarely talk about it in this way, property is underpinned by exactly the same kind of coercion that bolsters civil rights or tax laws, as is the entire superstructure of what we refer to as the free market system — that is, by government coercion.

Therefore, conservatives can’t be principled anti-coercion advocates unless they are willing to throw out private property, which they obviously aren’t. Coercion can’t be bad when it supports things you don’t like and good when it supports things you do — no matter what some conservatives maintain.

Let me emphasize that this line of reasoning doesn’t mean you can’t oppose some civil rights law, just that you can’t oppose it on the grounds of being against coercion in general.

Of course, framing the discussion in this way powerfully strengthens left-wing arguments. If being anti-coercion is utter nonsense, then the debate moves to which kinds of coercion are best as judged by some other moral framework. Whether that’s utilitarianism, contract theory, or Christian ethics, under such conditions it’s a lot harder to oppose transferring income from rich to poor or social insurance programs.

Thus, when presented with left-wing slogans like “property is violence,” your average conservative, perceiving a trap, will resist. In reality there is no escape.

But what makes Davis such a great example is he genuinely doesn’t seem to understand what the problem is here. He argues in one breath that, duh, of course all laws protecting property depend on coercive violence. Then in the very next paragraph, he writes this:

At their core, however, Kohn and Cooper appear to desperately want to avoid the real question at the heart of the religious freedom debate: should the government force individuals to participate in religious ceremonies against their will? [The Federalist]

Government coercion is good, except when it’s not. That’s the kind of stark hypocrisy conservatives would do well to disguise better.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, April 14, 2015

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Anti-Government, Conservatives, Liberty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There’s Plenty Of Money, Really”: Congressional Republicans Continue To Make Believe That Spending Cuts Are Good For Everyone

Don’t think for a second that congressional Republicans sincerely believe draconian cuts in federal spending stimulate the economy.

I know. They uniformly claim that spending cuts spark growth. But consider this.

During the 15-day shutdown of the federal government one and a half years ago, the United States lost some $24 billion in economic activity, according to a 2013 Standard & Poor’s report. Only Texas senator Ted Cruz and the conservative wing wanted the shutdown, while the rest of the Republican Party bore the brunt of cratering public opinion polls.

So when House Budget Committee chair Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, introduced a plan last month to cut more than $5 trillion in spending to balance the budget in nine years, take it for what it is — a purely political ploy to arouse conservatives in preparation for 2016.

The Price plan has no chance of becoming law with a Democrat in the White House, and a slim chance even with a Republican president. In repealing the Affordable Care Act and eviscerating food stamps while allocating tens of billions in defense spending (more than requested), it’s irresponsible. But in calling for the partial privatization of Medicare, it’s politically toxic. Beyond that, a Price plan put into law would be downright destructive. Sucking that much money out of the economy could possibly trigger, at the very least, another painful recession.

Still, congressional Republicans will continue to make believe that spending cuts are good for everyone, because like all make-believe stories, the Price plan has the advantage of sounding plausible. And because it sounds plausible, it feels persuasive to many voters. After all, growth is sluggish. Wages are flat. There isn’t enough money. It’s time to get serious and cut. That’s why Price titled his plan “A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America.”

In fact, there is enough money. Always has been. The trick is looking beyond one class of taxpayer dutifully paying its fair share to another class with the power, and the privilege, of avoiding paying its share.

According to a new report by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), 304 of the 500 top U.S. corporations stashed more than $2 trillion in profits in offshore accounts in 2014, avoiding as much as $600 billion in U.S. taxes.

Among these are the most popular American brands: Apple, Nike, Microsoft, Safeway, and Clorox. These are among just 28 of the top 500 companies to report the tax rate they would pay if they had repatriated profits to the U.S. The rest didn’t bother. They don’t have to report.

But even those reporting to the IRS were probably lowballing their total U.S. tax liability. If they said they earned their enormous profits in tax havens, they probably didn’t, because the countries that shelter the money, like Bermuda or the Cayman Islands, don’t have economies that can produce such enormous profits. Those profits can only be earned in countries with robust economies like the U.S.

Furthermore, the foreign tax rate they paid was far lower than the tax rate they would have paid in the U.S. Indeed, the 28 firms bothering to tell the IRS what they would have paid in U.S. taxes paid a foreign tax rate of about 10 percent on a total of $470 billion. You almost certainly paid a higher percentage on less income.

Ironically, the offshoring trend has grown since the economic collapse of 2008, the very event Republicans cite when calling for more and deeper spending cuts. The CTJ survey found 77 firms increased their caches by at least $500 million while another seven U.S. companies — Apple, General Electric, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Oracle, and Gilead Sciences — piled high their cash hoards with more than $5 billion.

The trend is poised to become permanent. CTJ researchers report an acceleration of what’s known as “corporate inversions,” meaning American firms reincorporate in foreign countries to avoid paying most or all taxes on profits earned in the U.S.

And — no surprise here — the firms with the most money overseas are the first to lobby Congress to avoid paying taxes on that money. To stop this vicious cycle, CTJ researchers recommend putting an end to something called “deferrals,” an SEC rule that incentivizes tax sheltering. Then all profits earned by U.S. corporations anywhere in the world would be subject to U.S. taxes in the year they were earned.

The CTJ report does more than offer advice on creating a more equitable tax code. It reminds us that the frame of our budget debate is much too narrow. It is typically limited to spending, not revenues, much to the benefit of Republicans, while Democrats are left complaining about the unfair treatment of the middle class.

But the CTJ report does something else, something its authors don’t come right out and say. Our very narrow budget debate is as much about patriotism and national character as it is about justice and fiscal responsibility. Or at least it should be.

Billions and billions are hidden overseas while the rest of us are forced to fight over crumbs. That’s degrading and undignified but also unpatriotic. Prosperity is not only for the very few with the power to enjoy it. This isn’t feudal England.

This is America.

 

By: John Stoehr, The National Memo, April 14, 2015

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, Republicans, Spending Cuts | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Long Can This Go On?”: There’s No Such Crime As ‘Driving While White’

The shooting of Walter L. Scott in South Carolina prompts the question:

When is the last time you heard of a white man in a Mercedes-Benz being pulled over for driving with a broken taillight?

It has probably happened somewhere, sometime, but there’s a better chance of your car being hit by a meteor.

Getting shot dead during a minor traffic stop also isn’t a prevailing fear among white males in America, no matter what type of vehicle they own.

Scott himself didn’t imagine he was going to die when he was pulled over. Unfortunately, he happened to be a black man driving a Mercedes, which is what got him noticed. He was behind on child-support payments and probably didn’t want to go to jail.

Something happened at the scene, Scott got Tased and then tried to run away. Officer Michael Slager fired eight times, hitting the unarmed 50-year-old in the back. The killing was caught on cellphone video by a bystander.

Slager told the dispatcher that Scott had snatched his Taser, but the video shows the officer dropping an object that looks just like a Taser near Scott’s handcuffed body. Slager has been charged with murder and fired from his job.

The shooting was shocking to watch, as the whole world has, yet the sequence of events leading up to it is sadly familiar to black men in this country. They can’t afford to drive around as carefree as us white guys.

In September, a South Carolina state trooper shot and wounded another unarmed black motorist after pulling him over because he allegedly wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.

I’ve got white friends who rarely buckle up, yet I don’t know of one who has been ticketed for it, or even stopped and warned. Maybe they’re just lucky.

The black comedian Chris Rock uses his Twitter account to record his traffic-stop encounters. In a recent seven-week period, he was pulled over three times (once as a passenger).

It’s possible he and his friends aren’t very good drivers. It’s also possible they’ve been targeted merely for “Driving While Black,” an unwritten offense that still exists in many regions of the country, not just the Deep South — and not just in high-crime areas.

The odds would be fairly slim for a black man driving a luxury car not to be pulled over at least once on a road trip between, say, Utah and North Dakota. Even in a ’98 Taurus he’d need to be watching the rear-view mirror for blue lights.

Generalizing about traffic stops can be problematic. The numbers often spike in certain neighborhoods at certain times of day, and a small number of officers can account for many incidents of racial profiling.

Still, the evidence that it exists is more than anecdotal.

Using a “Police-Public Contact Survey,” the U.S. Justice Department analyzed traffic stops of drivers aged 16 or older nationwide during 2011, comparing by race and weighting by population.

To the astonishment of hardly anyone, black drivers were about 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, and approximately 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than Hispanic motorists.

A series published by the Washington Post in September reported that minority drivers had their cars searched (and cash seized) at a higher rate than white drivers. That jibed with the Justice Department’s conclusion that vehicle searches occurred substantially more often when the driver wasn’t white.

Another unsurprising fact: Compared to other races, white drivers were most likely to get pulled over for speeding. Black drivers were statistically more likely to be stopped for vehicle defects or record checks.

Which is what happened to Walter L. Scott in North Charleston.

Never in almost five decades of driving have I been pulled over for a busted brake light or a burned-out headlight, even though I’ve had a few.

It didn’t matter whether I was in a Dodge, Oldsmobile, Jeep, Ford, Chevy or even, for a while, a Mercedes SUV.

The only thing I’ve ever been stopped for is, like many impatient white people, driving too fast.

And every time a police officer walked up to my car, I knew exactly why he or she wanted to chat with me. It was no mystery whatsoever.

That’s not always the case for a black man behind the wheel of a car in this country. This is not just a perception; it’s a depressing reality.

If it had been me or Matt Lauer or even faux Hispanic Jeb Bush driving that Mercedes-Benz in South Carolina, Officer Slager wouldn’t have stopped the car. Not for a busted taillight, no way.

Which prompts another question: How long can this go on?

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 14, 2015

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Police Shootings, Police Violence, White Privilege | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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