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“Relying On Anecdotes From Police Officials”: No Data Exists To Support Police Claims Of Victimization

Shortly after FBI Director James Comey delivered ill-considered remarks linking increased scrutiny of police to rising crime, a cellphone video of a Columbia, South Carolina, school cop violently manhandling a teenage girl went viral. Comey’s comments were quickly overtaken by that news — which, coincidently, showed how imprudent they were.

On two occasions in late October, the FBI’s top official had the opportunity to reinforce for police officials the sacred trust at the center of their oaths, which require them to protect and serve. That sacred trust was violated — cleaved and quartered, in fact — by Ben Fields, the Spring Valley High “school resource officer” whose actions resulted in his firing and sparked a Justice Department investigation.

Instead, Comey chose to play to police officers’ paranoia and sense of isolation and victimization. In speeches at the University of Chicago Law School and to the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, he suggested that homicides are on the rise in several cities because police officers are too intimidated to do their jobs properly.

Speaking to the police chiefs, Comey asked: “In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?”

At the law school, he’d said that “viral videos” may be contributing to a police reluctance to confront criminals.

Let’s be clear: There is absolutely no data — as Comey admitted — that links rising homicides to a new passivity on the part of police. (Violent crime continues to decline, as it has since its peak in 1991, but homicides are now rising in a handful of cities. Criminologists don’t know why, as they still don’t know why crime has declined over the last few decades.)

In fact, there is no data showing that police are less aggressive than they used to be. The FBI director, who ought to know better, is relying on anecdotes from police officials, who are in the habit of complaining when they are under scrutiny.

But that scrutiny is long overdue. The Black Lives Matter movement, a loosely organized network of activists, was sparked by police violence that has resulted in the deaths of unarmed black civilians. You know the names of many of the victims, who include Eric Garner, put in a deadly chokehold by New York City police for the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes; 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot dead by police in Cleveland for waving a toy gun in a park; and John Crawford III, shot dead by Beavercreek, Ohio, police after he picked up a BB gun from a Wal-Mart store shelf.

If protests over such official savagery keep police from doing their jobs, they are not committed to keeping the peace, to serving or protecting. If they were, they’d welcome attention that helps to weed out the bullies, the poorly trained and the bigots in their ranks. After all, police officers need the respect and cooperation of the communities they serve in order to catch the real criminals.

Unfortunately, though, many rank-and-file officers and their superiors have assumed the mantle of victims, complaining that the Black Lives Matter movement disrespects, and even endangers, police. It keeps them from doing their jobs. It emboldens criminals, they say.

And that narrative is constantly fed by conservative media outlets, whose pundits insist that President Obama panders to criminals while blaming police for simple errors. That notion was further fueled at the most recent Republican debate by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who insisted that the president doesn’t “support police officers.”

“You know, the FBI director … has said this week that because of a lack of support from politicians like the president of the United States, that police officers are afraid to get out of their cars, that they’re afraid to enforce the law,” Christie claimed.

If you want to see fear, take another look at that disturbing video of Ben Fields flinging a teenage girl across the floor. The other students cower in their desks, some afraid to look up. That lesson is one from which they’ll likely never recover.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, October 31, 2015

November 1, 2015 Posted by | James Comey, Police Brutality, Police Officers | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Mass Shooting Talking Points”: Conservative Media Use Oregon Community College Shooting To Revive “Gun-Free Zone” Canard

In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, conservative commentators instantly referred to the school as a “gun-free zone,” falling back on conservative media’s go-to mass shooting talking point.

At least 10 people were reported killed, and many others injured October 1 during an Oregon community college mass shooting, and as facts concerning the shooting remained scarce, media figures immediately made references to the campus as a “gun-free zone” on CNN, Fox News, Fox Business Network, the Drudge Report, and other conservative websites.

But these references of “gun-free zones” represent a red herring because they rely on the assumption that more people carrying guns would stop mass shootings, when in reality there is no evidence to support such claims.

The overwhelming majority of mass shootings actually occur where guns are allowed to be carried. And according to an analysis of 62 public mass shootings over a 30 year period conducted by Mother Jones, not a single shooting was stopped by a civilian carrying a firearm. Mother Jones also found that gunmen do not choose to target locations because guns are not allowed, but rather other motives typically exist for choice of location, such as a workplace grievance.

As Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes explained in a commentary for The Trace, the idea that “gun-free zones” attract mass shooters is based on the faulty assumption that the shooters are “rational actors”:

Perhaps the most glaring flaw in the argument against gun-free zones, in the context of mass shootings, is its underlying assumption that shooters are rational actors. Lott himself admits that about half of criminals who commit mass shootings have received a “formal diagnosis of mental illness,” yet his model requires them to act precisely as we know they don’t: as hyperrational, calculating machines, intentionally seeking out gun-free environments for the sole purpose of maximizing causalities.

In reality, many shooters target a location based on an emotional grievance or an attachment to a particular person or place. An FBI study of 160 active shootings (defined as a shooter actively attempting to kill people in a populated area, regardless of the amount of fatalities) between 2000 and 2013 — including the high-profile mass shootings in Tucson and Aurora — shows that of the shootings that occurred in commercial or educational areas, the shooter had some relationship with the area in 63 percent of the cases.

 

By: Timothy Johnson, Media Matters for America, October 1, 2015

October 4, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, Gun Free Zones, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“A Little Noticed Brief”: Justice Department; Clinton’s Email Practices Were Permissible

In the spring, Republicans, a variety of reporters, and much of the Beltway establishment was convinced: there was a real “scandal” surrounding Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation’s international donors. In time, the allegations crumbled, the controversy evaporated, and the political world lost interest in the story that didn’t stand up to scrutiny. There just was no there there.

Over the summer, the same Republicans, many of the same reporters, and much of the Beltway establishment was once again convinced: there was a real “scandal” surrounding Hillary Clinton and her email server management. Given the latest revelations, it’s starting to look like deja vu all over again.

The Obama administration told a federal court Wednesday that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was within her legal rights to use of her own email account, to take the messages with her when she left office and to be the one deciding which of those messages are government records that should be returned.

In the most complete legal defense of Mrs. Clinton, Justice Department lawyers insisted they not only have no obligation, but no power, to go back and demand the former top diplomat turn over any documents she hasn’t already given – and neither, they said, can the court order that.

The Associated Press, BuzzFeed, and the New York Times had similar reports on this “little noticed brief.”

So, let me get this straight. Clinton used a private email server. The State Department said this was allowed. The Justice Department came to the same conclusion. The FBI isn’t investigating her.

I know we’re supposed to think this is a “scandal,” and the coverage has successfully convinced plenty of voters that this “controversy” is evidence of some unnamed nefarious misdeeds, but the rationale for taking this story seriously is looking pretty thin.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post published a lengthy, front-page piece over the weekend that reported Clinton’s personal, deleted emails may yet be recoverable by technicians. I’m not sure why these personal, deleted emails should be an area of interest in a presidential campaign; in fact I’m not sure why any candidate’s personal, deleted emails should be scrutinized.

And yet, over the weekend, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairmen of the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, respectively, said “they would push for the deleted e-mails to be reviewed if they can be recovered.”

Of course they would.

Why, exactly, should Hillary Clinton’s personal emails receive scrutiny that no candidate, in either party, has ever had to face? I have no idea, but congressional Republicans seem serious anyway.

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum added, sarcastically, “I’m sure the nation’s security hinges on this. And if Hillary’s personal emails are successfully recovered, I’m equally sure that a few of the most embarrassing ones will somehow get leaked to friendly reporters.”

Count on it.

In the meantime, if someone can explain why this is literally a front-page story for months, while Jeb Bush’s identical email issue is considered a non-story, I’m eager to hear the explanation.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 14, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, Justice Department | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Willfully Misrepresenting Fundamental Facts”: Still Perplexed And Worried About Hillary Clinton’s Emails? Calm Down

Amid the ongoing hysterics over Hillary Clinton’s email server – now turned over to the FBI, along with a “thumb drive” maintained by her attorney David Kendall – it was refreshing this morning that ABC News, at least, appears to understand basic facts about this overblown affair.

In a handy question-and-answer format, the network’s Justin Fishel and Mike Levine explain why the FBI wants to examine the server, namely to ascertain that it contains no classified information, and reiterate what everyone ought to know by now: that despite propagandistic nonsense spread by Republican operatives, the bureau is not undertaking a criminal investigation of Clinton herself.

As noted in the ABC News Q&A:

The Intelligence Community’s inspector general said from the beginning that it made a “counterintelligence referral” — not a “criminal referral” — to the FBI. The main concern was that classified information could be compromised because it was sent over unsecured networks and remained in the hands of Clinton or her legal team, not that any crimes may have been committed, a spokeswoman for the Intelligence Community’s IG previously told ABC News.

But even the comparatively sober ABC News analysis omits crucial facts that seem to have eluded many observers – several of which were outlined by Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s communications director, in a useful briefing she posted on Medium. Yes, it is Palmieri’s job to remind everyone of these facts. And it is the job of journalists to report them – not ignore them – so that readers and viewers can understand this story’s context.

As discussed in this space before, the State Department asked the four Secretaries of State who preceded John Kerry to turn over work-related electronic mail for archiving. Only Hillary Clinton has provided any materials so far, sending over 30,000 emails from her server. According to Palmieri, at least 1,200 of those messages will be returned to Clinton, because State officials say they are wholly personal in nature.

(I still wonder why reporters seem so uninterested in the emails sent by Colin Powell on his personal account, particularly concerning Iraq. Powell insists he didn’t keep any of those messages, but nobody seems too eager to test that convenient assertion.)

Palmieri also addresses the confusion over information that wasn’t classified when Clinton sent it but may have been classified since she left office:

It’s common for information previously considered unclassified to be upgraded to classified before being publicly released [as Clinton’s official emails are being examined, redacted, and released by the State Department]. Some emails that weren’t secret at the time she sent or received them might be secret now. And sometimes government agencies disagree about what should be classified, so it isn’t surprising that another agency might want to conduct its own review, even though the State Department has repeatedly confirmed that Hillary’s emails contained no classified information at the time she sent or received them.

We can expect some partisan figures – like Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and his fellow Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi – to continue to willfully misrepresent these fundamental facts. Gowdy seems to believe that smearing Clinton, using millions of taxpayer dollars, is his job.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, August 13, 2015

August 14, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Structural Racism”: ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’ Doesn’t Excuse Ongoing Police Violence

On Thursday, FBI director James Comey gave a long and searching speech called “Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race” – complete with deep meditations on race, predictable but annoying equivocations, and harmful misdirection about the violence of policing.

It also included – in an unquestionable first for an FBI director giving a public speech – quotes from the oversexed, cursing puppets of the Broadway musical Avenue Q. (Who knows if FBI brass have quoted them in private before; if only J Edgar Hoover could have lived to see this!)

Comey frankly acknowledged his predecessor Hoover’s immoral pursuits of Martin Luther King and that at “many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.” He invoked his own ancestry to show how the Irish were once so loathed by the cops that vehicles used to mass transport prisoners are still called “paddy wagons” without forgetting that, although the “Irish had tough times – little compares to the experience on our soil of black Americans.”

And while it was encouraging to hear Comey say that Americans need some actual goddamned government statistics on how often cops kill people rather than relying upon sites like KilledByPolice.net, it didn’t exactly fill me with confidence that he was so convinced only after he “listened to a thoughtful big city police chief express his frustration with that lack of reliable data” who “didn’t know whether the Ferguson police shot one person a week, one a year, or one a century.”

Does it matter? Isn’t one lost life one too many?

In his prepared remarks, Comey never used the word “racism”. He did use the word “racist” three times – but twice it was to say cops really aren’t racist, and once to quote the song “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” from Avenue Q.

Though I was as gleeful as the next homosexual to see a raunchy Broadway musical quoted by the head of the FBI, Comey was actually equivocating on racism’s power to harm by using it: “We all – white and black – carry various biases around with us”, he said. And while that may be true, no level of civilian bias against police, not even cars blaring NWA’s Fuck the Police (as I heard often while in Ferguson myself) justifies the police violence against which protesters are fighting. The structural racism people of color experience isn’t harming police – unless they’re people of color, off duty, and subjected to stop and frisk by their fellow officers.

He did address the cynicism and “mental shortcuts” which exacerbate racial profiling. But then he alleged it doesn’t mean an officer is racist when “mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights”, nor did he even name systematic racism as at work there.

Comey also talked about how “data shows that the percentage of young men not working or not enrolled in school is nearly twice as high for blacks as it is for whites”, adding that he understands “the hard work to develop violence-resistant and drug-resistant kids, especially in communities of color.” But kids in communities of color don’t need to “Just Say No” – they need, and we need, to demand an end to economic segregation and a lack of educational opportunity.

The FBI director hinted at the existence of racism when he talked of changing a legacy “so enormous and so complicated that it is, unfortunately, easier to talk only about the cops”. He is right that it’s not fair to pin everything on police; but, it’s unhelpful misdirection to point at (unarmed) citizens failing to “really see the men and women of law enforcement” (who are always armed) as the problem with policing.

It’s also unhelpful to act like being a cop is more dangerous than it actually is. Existing data has shown that it’s not a particularly dangerous job; it’s not even among the 10 most dangerous jobs in America. Far more people are killed by cops in any given year than cops are killed by civilians – and, cops who do die “in the line of duty” are about as likely to do so in a vehicle related injury than by being shot.

Still, no amount of pandering to the homosexual agenda with Avenue Q quotes can soften the blow of hearing the nation’s top cop ignoring the very basis of our legal system by claiming – right after a year with a record number of legal exonerations – that “criminal suspects routinely lie about their guilt, and the people we charge are overwhelmingly guilty.” Actually, criminal suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law; exonerations indicate that even those decisions aren’t permanent.

This week, there have been a number of positive developments in the fight against police violence; Comey’s speech is among them, to be sure, along with the lawsuit against Ferguson debtors’ prisons and the MacArthur Foundation ponying up $75mn to fight overincarceration. But Comey’s speech isn’t the big sign of progress; the real progress is that, six months after Mike Brown was killed, the movement that his death triggered is still so powerful that the head of the FBI finally feels the need to address the injustice that so many Americans now find apparent.

 

By: Steven W. Thrasher, The Guardian, February 13, 2014

February 14, 2015 Posted by | James Comey, Law Enforcement, Police Abuse | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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