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“Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up”: GOP Candidates Blame Obama For Police Shootings, Cite No Evidence

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch yesterday “strongly condemned shootings of law enforcement officers in Texas and Illinois and issued an unequivocal message of support for police.” The comments came on the heels of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) arguing that “the entire Obama administration” has shown “hostility [towards] law enforcement.”

Cruz, of course, backed up his argument by pointing to … nothing. Soon after, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) appeared on Fox News and said the White House’s support for law enforcement has been “ambiguous,” which contributes to violence and lawlessness. To support the contention, the scandal-plagued Republican also pointed to … nothing.

Taking an even less subtle approach, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) published a piece on a far-right blog yesterday, reflecting on “a serious problem.”

In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.

Look, eventually we’re going to reach a put-up-or-shut-up moment. We talked yesterday about how offensive it is when politicians exploit the deaths of police officers for partisan gain, but as the number of GOP candidates connecting the White House to the slayings grows, it becomes all the more important for Republican officials to do one specific thing:

Back up their ugly claims with some shred of proof.

Of course, at this point, I can imagine some conservative readers yelling at their computer screens. “Oh yeah, smart guy? What about you? Where’s your evidence that the president has offered unambiguous support for law enforcement?”

It’s not an unreasonable point, but it’s also surprisingly easy to spend a little time online and find all kinds of examples. About a month ago, Obama told the NAACP’s annual convention, “Our communities are safer thanks to brave police officers and hard-working prosecutors who put those violent criminals in jail.” In May, he said, “To be a police officer takes a special kind of courage…. It takes a special kind of courage to run towards danger, to be a person that residents turn to when they’re most desperate.”

Here was the president in May at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service:

“Your jobs are inherently dangerous. The reminders are too common. Just a few days ago, two police officers were killed in the line of duty in Mississippi. A week before that, an officer was killed in the line of duty in Queens. A few months before that, two of his fellow officers in the NYPD were killed as well.  We cannot erase every darkness or danger from the duty that you’ve chosen. We can offer you the support you need to be safer. We can make the communities you care about and protect safer as well. We can make sure that you have the resources you need to do your job. We can do everything we have to do to combat the poverty that plagues too many communities in which you have to serve.  We can work harder, as a nation, to heal the rifts that still exist in some places between law enforcement and the people you risk your lives to protect. 

 “We owe it to all of you who wear the badge with honor. And we owe it to your fellow officers who gave their last full measure of devotion.  Most of all, we can say thank you. We can say we appreciate you and we’re grateful for the work that you do each and every day. And we can thank the families who bear the burden alongside you.”

In March, reflecting on the crisis in Ferguson, Obama said, “The overwhelming number of law enforcement officers have a really hard, dangerous job, and they do it well and they do it fairly, and they do it heroically. And I strongly believe that. And the overwhelming majority of police departments across the country are really thinking hard about how do we make sure that we are protecting and serving everybody equally. And we need to honor those folks, and we need to respect them, and not just assume that they’ve got ill will or they’re doing a bad job.”

Even in this year’s State of the Union address, the president added, “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York.  But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.  And surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

The list goes on and on. There are so many examples like these – the ones noted above are just from 2015 – spanning Obama’s entire presidency. Over and over again, he’s voiced support and gratitude towards Americans in law enforcement.

Ted Cruz said this week that the police feel under “assault from the president,” which the far-right senator considers “fundamentally wrong.”

It is fundamentally wrong, but not for the reasons Cruz thinks.

The underlying allegation is no mild rebuke. Republican officials, some seeking the nation’s highest office, are publicly accusing the president of the United States, not only of hostility towards law enforcement, but also of contributing to a dynamic in which officers are being killed. That’s a serious accusation, which requires substantiation.

If GOP officials can’t back it up, they ought to move on to some other kind of nonsense.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2015

September 4, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Officers, Police Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Backlash Notes, Cruz Edition”: Climbing On Board The Same Old Twentieth Century Law-And-Order Bandwagon

Ever since the virtual strike of cops in New York and Baltimore in conjunction with protests against police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, I’ve been concerned that on the brink of potential bipartisan action on criminal justice reform we’d see a 1960s-1970s style backlash fed by vote hungry conservative politicians. The recent spikein some forms of violent crime after decades of gradually declining rates struck me as likely to create some ugly racial dynamics as well, or at least “buyer’s remorse” among conservatives for police or criminal justice reform.

With his usual lack of inhibition, Donald Trump was first to get in touch with his inner Frank Rizzo, arguing that even if police were unjustly targeting African-Americans it was important to “give back power to the police” to deal with the “crime wave.”

Now Trump’s buddy Ted Cruz is climbing on board the same old twentieth century law-and-order bandwagon after the shooting of a police officer in Houston (as reported by TPM’s Allegra Kirkland:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested President Obama bore some of the blame for Friday’s fatal shooting of a sheriff’s deputy in Houston, Texas. During a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Cruz told reporters that “cops across this country are feeling the assault” thanks to the “vilification” of law enforcement by administration officials, the Dallas Morning News reported.

“These are brave heroes who risk their lives keeping us safe,” Cruz said. “And I do think we’re seeing the manifestation of the rhetoric and vilification of law enforcement, of police, that is coming from the president of the United States and it’s coming from senior officials.”

Cruz’s comments come just days after Harris County deputy Darren Goforth was shot 15 times while pumping gas at a Houston Chevron station. No motive has yet been found for the killing, but the alleged shooter, Shannon Miles, has been charged with capital murder.

Local authorities, including Harris County Sherriff Ron Hickman, believe Goforth “was a target because he wore a uniform.”

Cruz suggested President Obama’s condemnation of the fatal shootings of unarmed black teenagers in cities including Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland helped to inflame anti-cop sentiment.

There you have it: express concern about the police shooting black people without cause and you are inciting cop-killers. Yet in the same breath Cruz accuses Obama of inflaming “racial divisions.”

Yeah, it’s feeling mighty 1970 out there.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Post, September 2, 2015

September 2, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Law and Order, Police Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Police Abuse Is A Form Of Terror”: State Violence Versus Community Violence

Writing about the wave of deadly encounters — many caught on video — between unarmed black people and police officers often draws a particular criticism from a particular subset of readers.

It is some variation of this:

“Why are you not writing about the real problem — black-on-black crime? Young black men are far more likely to be killed by another young black man than by the police. Why do people not seem to protest when those young people are killed? Where is the media coverage of those deaths?”

This to me has always felt like a deflection, a juxtaposition meant to use one problem to drown out another.

Statistically, the sentiment is correct: Black people are more likely to be killed by other black people. But white people are also more likely to be killed by other white people. The truth is that murders and other violent crimes are often crimes of intimacy and access. People tend to kill people they know.

The argument suggests that police killings are relatively rare and therefore exotic, and distract from more mundane and widespread community violence. I view it differently: as state violence versus community violence.

People are often able to understand and contextualize community violence and, therefore, better understand how to avoid it. A parent can say to a child: Don’t run with that crowd, or hang out on that corner or get involved with that set of activities.

A recent study by scholars at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale found that homicides cluster and overwhelmingly involve a tiny group of people who not only share social connections but are also already involved in the criminal justice system.

We as adults can decide whether or not to have guns in the home. According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, having a gun may increase the chances of being the victim of homicide. We can report violent family members.

And people with the means and inclination can decide to move away from high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods.

These measures are not 100 percent effective, but they can produce some measure of protection and provide individual citizens with some degree of personal agency.

State violence, as epitomized in these cases by what people view as police abuses, conversely, has produced a specific feeling of terror, one that is inescapable and unavoidable.

The difference in people’s reactions to these different kinds of killings isn’t about an exaltation — or exploitation — of some deaths above others for political purposes, but rather a collective outrage that the people charged with protecting your life could become a threat to it. It is a reaction to the puncturing of an illusion, the implosion of an idea. How can I be safe in America if I can’t be safe in my body? It is a confrontation with a most discomforting concept: that there is no amount of righteous behavior, no neighborhood right enough, to produce sufficient security.

It produces a particular kind of terror, a feeling of nakedness and vulnerability, a fear that makes people furious at the very idea of having to be afraid.

The reaction to police killings is to my mind not completely dissimilar to people’s reaction to other forms of terrorism.

The very ubiquity of police officers and the power they possess means that the questionable killing in which they are involved creates a terror that rolls in like a fog, filling every low place. It produces ambient, radiant fear. It is the lurking unpredictability of it. It is the any- and everywhere-ness of it.

The black community’s response to this form of domestic terror has not been so different from America’s reaction to foreign terror.

The think tank New America found in June that 26 people were killed by jihadist attacks in the United States since 9/11 — compared with 48 deaths from “right wing attacks.” And yet, we have spent unending blood and treasure to combat Islamist terrorism in those years. Furthermore, according to Gallup, half of all Americans still feel somewhat or very worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism.

In one of the two Republican debates last week, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed to be itching for yet another antiterrorism war, saying at one point: “I would take the fight to these guys, whatever it took, as long as it took.”

Whatever, however, long. This is not only Graham’s position, it’s the position of a large segment of the population.

Responding to New America’s tally, Fareed Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post in July:

“Americans have accepted an unprecedented expansion of government powers and invasions of their privacy to prevent such attacks. Since 9/11, 74 people have been killed in the United States by terrorists, according to the think tank New America. In that same period, more than 150,000 Americans have been killed in gun homicides, and we have done … nothing.”

And yet, we don’t ask “Why aren’t you, America, focusing on the real problem: Americans killing other Americans?”

Is the “real problem” question reserved only for the black people? Are black people not allowed to begin a righteous crusade?

One could argue that America’s overwhelming response to the terror threat is precisely what has kept the number of people killed in this country as a result of terror so low. But, if so, shouldn’t black Americans, similarly, have the right to exercise tremendous resistance to reduce the number of black people killed after interactions with the police?

How is it that we can understand an extreme reaction by Americans as a whole to a threat of terror but demonstrate a staggering lack of that understanding when black people in America do the same?

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 12, 2015

August 16, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Abuse, Police Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Powerful Legacy”: Positive Steps On Stop And Frisk, Drug Arrests

For all who believe in colorblind justice — and want to see fewer African American and Hispanic men caught up in the system — there are two recent items of good news: a judge’s ruling ordering changes in New York’s “stop-and-frisk” policy and Attorney General Eric Holder’s initiative to keep nonviolent drug offenders out of prison.

First, stop-and-frisk. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is having a hissy fit over U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin’s finding that the policy amounted to “indirect racial profiling.” On his weekly radio show, he wouldn’t even say Scheindlin’s name, calling her “some woman” who knows “absolutely zero” about policing. In an op-ed for The Post, Bloomberg went so far as to accuse Scheindlin of being “ideologically driven.”

If and when Bloomberg calms down, I’d like to ask him the fundamental question posed — not in these words, of course — by Scheindlin’s ruling: Would it kill you to stop and frisk some white guys, too?

Blacks and Hispanics make up about half of New York City’s population but were targeted in 87 percent of the 532,911 “stops” last year under Bloomberg’s policy, which encourages police to detain and search individuals if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person “committed, is committing, or is about to commit” a crime. The reason most often cited for a stop is that the individual made “furtive” movements.

In nine out of 10 cases, the person is stopped — and sometimes frisked — but no evidence is found of any offense. Bloomberg argues that this kind of proactive policing actually prevents crime, and he credits stop-and-frisk for making New York the safest big city in the country.

I’m all for safe streets. I’m also aware that there is no consensus crediting stop-and-frisk with any impact on the crime rate, but I’m willing to accept the premise that an active police presence can deter criminals. My problem is that African Americans and Hispanics are being singled out disproportionately for these arbitrary searches.

Bloomberg says this is because most violent crime occurs in black and Hispanic neighborhoods, with black and Hispanic victims. By all means, police should continue walking and cruising these beats. But the numbers indicate that African Americans and Hispanics are being given too much stop-and-frisk scrutiny — and that whites are being given too little.

According to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union, blacks and Hispanics who are stopped are more likely than whites to be frisked. But just 2 percent of blacks and Hispanics who are frisked are discovered to be carrying weapons, while 4 percent of whites who are frisked have weapons. So if the aim is to find illegal guns, police should frisk more whites.

Why such fuss over a few minutes of inconvenience and indignity? Because blacks and Hispanics who come into contact with the criminal justice system for any reason are more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted than whites and are likely to serve longer prison sentences.

More than 26,000 stops were made last year for alleged marijuana offenses, for example; 61 percent were of African Americans and only 9 percent were of whites. But surveys show that whites are equally or more likely than blacks to be marijuana users. Police don’t find white potheads because they’re not looking for them.

We know that nationwide, according to federal figures, African Americans are four times as likely as whites to be arrested, charged and imprisoned for minor drug offenses. Once young black and Hispanic men enter the criminal justice system, too often they become trapped in a loop of incarceration, release, unemployment and recidivism.

On the national level, Holder has taken direct aim at this vicious cycle with the announcement last week that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders will no longer face federal charges that carry long mandatory prison sentences.

Holder is giving new instructions to federal prosecutors and also supporting legislation that has received bipartisan support in the Senate, where some conservatives now see excessive prison terms as a waste of money.

“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate, not merely to warehouse and to forget,” Holder said in a speech to the American Bar Association. President Obama is expected to make prison reform one of his priorities this fall.

Ending the presumption that African American and Hispanic men are beyond redemption would be a powerful legacy for the first black president and the first black attorney general to leave behind.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 19, 2013

August 20, 2013 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Stop and Frisk | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Economics Of Gun Control”: Quantifying The External Costs Of Gun Ownership

After the school massacre in Newtown, everyone has been putting out proposals for how to reduce gun violence. President Obama created an inter-agency task force. The NRA asked for armed guards in every school. And now economists are weighing in with their own, number-heavy approaches.

First, here’s a recent paper (pdf) by Duke’s Philip Cook and Georgetown’s Jens Ludwig trying to quantify the “external cost” of gun ownership. The two economists wanted to figure out precisely what sorts of costs gun owners impose on the rest of society.

That’s not an easy question to answer. For starters, there aren’t even airtight estimates of how many people actually own guns in the United States. So Cook and Ludwig created a data set that used the number of suicides by firearm in a county as a proxy for gun ownership — and checked it against a variety of existing survey data.

The next step was to figure out the “social cost” of owning a gun. The two economists determined that a greater prevalence of guns in an area was associated with an increase in the murder rate, but not other types of violent crimes (guns, the authors argue, lead to “an intensification of criminal violence”). Why does this happen? One possibility: The two economists found evidence that if there are more legal guns in an area, it’s more likely that those guns will be transferred to “illegal” owners.

When the two economists added up the costs of gun ownership—more injuries and more homicides—and weighed them against various benefits, they concluded that the average household acquiring a gun imposed a net cost on the rest of society of somewhere between $100 to $1,800 per year. (The range depends on the assumptions used—and note that they are not including the increased risk of suicide that comes with owning a gun.)

Now, normally when economists come across a product that has a negative externality—like cigarettes or coal-fired plants—they recommend taxing or regulating it, so that the user of the product internalizes the costs that he or she is imposing on everyone else. In this case, an economist might suggest slapping a steeper tax on guns or bullets.

Others might object that this isn’t fair. There are responsible gun owners and irresponsible gun owners. Not everyone with a gun imposes the same costs on society. Why should the tax be uniform? And that brings us to John Wasik’s recent essay at Forbes. Instead of a tax on guns, he recommends that gun owners be required to purchase liability insurance. Different gun owners would pay different rates, depending on the risks involved:

When you buy a car, your insurer underwrites the risk according to your age, driving/arrest/ticket record, type of car, amount of use and other factors. A teenage driver behind the wheel of a Porsche is going to pay a lot more than a 50-year-old house wife. A driver with DUI convictions may not get insurance at all. Like vehicles, you should be required to have a policy before you even applied for a gun permit. Every seller would have to follow this rule before making a transaction.

This is where social economics goes beyond theory. Those most at risk to commit a gun crime would be known to the actuaries doing the research for insurers. They would be underwritten according to age, mental health, place of residence, credit/bankruptcy record and marital status. Keep in mind that insurance companies have mountains of data and know how to use it to price policies, or in industry parlance, to reduce the risk/loss ratio.

Who pays the least for gun insurance would be least likely to commit a crime with it.An 80-year-old married woman in Fort Lauderdale would get a great rate. A 20-year-old in inner-city Chicago wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Gun insurance for gun owners does exist right now, but it isn’t required — as Wasik notes, only 22 cities even require gun dealers to carry liability insurance. And, yes, under this proposal, people would no doubt still acquire guns illegally and evade the insurance requirements.

Granted, this proposal isn’t likely to garner much political support — even the Illinois state legislature, which has often looked favorably on gun-control laws, swatted a gun-insurance bill down pretty quickly in 2009. It might not get past the Supreme Court. And over at the Daily Beast, Megan McArdle outlines a number of other possible problems with having states require individual gun insurance. Still, it’s another way of thinking about the costs of gun ownership.

 

By: Brad Plummer, The Washington Post Wonkblog, December 28, 2012

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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