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waco_fireToday is the 21st anniversary of the holocaust that killed 76 Branch Davidians at Waco. And though their deaths have been politicized in a thousand different ways by now — and even used as an excuse to commit more mass murder — their deaths were real and they were completely unnecessary. And, regardless of who set the fire or how it happened, the fault lies with the federal agents and government officials who are tasked with legal force and who fell down so colossally on their jobs that day. Waco should be an issue of bipartisan horror, and in some ways it is. But there are people who still refuse to admit that it was more than just a battle cry for the anti-government fringe; that it was real, and it was wrong, and it didn’t need to happen at all.

A hundred years ago, or perhaps a decade, Rachel Maddow seemed like a reasonable, nuanced type of liberal. She and Tucker Carlson — who, even if you are not wild about the Daily Caller, is a fantastic magazine writer in his own right — used to have respectful, interesting debates on Carlson’s MSNBC show. Now Fox has turned MSNBC into the Fox of the Left — though arguably worse, since MSNBC were sniveling hacks during the war in Iraq; Fox at least hates the executive branch half the time — and Maddow has turned into the female Keith Olbermann, with the towering self-satisfaction to match.

I don’t particularly care that Maddow seems to be for some modicum of gun control, or even that she believes some type of federal agency should be in charge of enforcing some of those firearms laws. What disturbs me, and what makes me believe that Maddow has truly crossed over into the realm of pure partisan hack is how she talks about Waco or Ruby Ridge. Maddow seems barely able to recognize that those two tragedies involved the deaths of more than 80 people (including federal agents). She seems to believe that to reference Waco or Ruby Ridge with anger or as a remembrance of what government excess can do is simply a sign of right-wing extremism. Whether she believes that truly, or whether it is part of the act, isn’t really the point.

Though CNN’s shockingly one-sided “documentary” on Waco from last year cannot be beat in terms of excluding information that provides shades of gray or context, Maddow’s bizarre campaign to be best friends with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF, in common use) is still impressive in its dishonesty.

Take her piece from early 2013 about right-wingers who dislike the ATF. Besides making me like the NRA more than I ever have before by mentioning (clutch your pearls!) that they published something that called ATF agents “jack-booted thugs” a mere month after the Oklahoma City Bombing, Maddow also has a bizarre screed about how right-wingers think Waco was a conspiracy.

In the report, Maddow traces the history of fringe candidates in ’92, including Bo Gritz who helped to talk Randy Weaver into surrendering after an 11-day standoff at Ruby Ridge. Or, as Maddow put it a “violent, fatal standoff” — then she cuts to a contemporary news report on the situation, to make sure no larger context is available. The Weaver family is described as “hiding” in the cabin which they lived — that became a cause for the anti-government, far right. (Fine.)

Then she moves onto Waco, making sure to call David Koresh a cult leader (accurate in my mind, but a very loaded term — she says “four members of the cult were killed”) and the Davidians’ home a “compound.” Maddow doesn’t touch the fire controversy herself, she simply cuts to Tom Brokaw on April 19, 1993 talking about the apocalyptic messiah complex of Koresh and heavily suggesting he “took his followers with him.” Again, why bring in any uncomfortable nuance or context from 20 years on, when you can just sum up the situation with a media report from the day of the tragedy? (Sure, the press was kept a mile away and forced to depend on FBI press releases, but that’s no reason not to believe them.)

Now Maddow gets very strange. She says “what happened at Waco was an absolute nightmare. But on parts of the very far right — the anti-government, far-right fringe, it was seen not just as a a nightmare, but as a conspiracy — as a government conspiracy. As something that was ginned up and in fact faked by the government to create a big enough, scary enough, situation that it would justify taking away everyone’s guns.”

Her language choice is fascinating. The tamest possible acknowledgement that Waco equals bad was used — it was “a nightmare.” But then come the dire suggestions that anti-government folk think Waco was a conspiracy. How exactly? That it was a false-flag or something? She doesn’t say what she means exactly, but by merely mentioning “conspiracy” the lens shifts — suddenly viewers are thinking of Alex Jones’s wildest claims, not those found in Academy Award-nominated documentaries.

Some people do think it was a deliberate execution. I believe they are probably mistaken. Waco was “merely” criminal negligence, criminal homicide, assault, and a staggeringly high level of incompetence. But Maddow, by focusing on the unspecified crazies who seem to think Waco was a gun-grabbing excuse, doesn’t have to focus on any of that. She goes on to talk about then-Congressman Steve Stockman who also once wrote a piece on how Waco was an excuse for gun grabbing. This is what outrages Maddow — that a US Congressman would engage in such paranoid fearmongering. Paranoia — only slight paranoia — is the moral failing. Twenty melted children is a “nightmare.”

And now we’re on to Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing. McVeigh, not a militia member in spite of what Maddow said, went to Waco! He was angry about Waco! He hated the ATF! McVeigh, that asshole, made sure there would always be a tie between being mad about Waco and being suspicious. But someone actually smart — and God knows, Maddow thinks she’s smart, and is certainly book smart — can recognize that there is nothing strange about being horrified at Waco. Maddow doesn’t have the courage to just say she thinks it’s suspicious, she just presents all this in a faux-neutral manner. She thinks Waco was a “nightmare,” so she is fair.

Now, I didn’t follow the beginnings of the standoff between rancher Cliven Bundy and agents from the Bureau of Land Management. According to Maddow last Wednesday (and various clips from pundits), Fox News was going a little crazy with the comparisons between Bundy Ranch and Waco. Although any kind of resistance to federal law enforcement instinctively goes there for some people, the comparisons are not always ideal. Certainly, if the Fox News pundits were rubbing their hands together in glee, it could be seen as bad taste — they want dead patriots to prove their own ideological points. (The clip includes comedian Tom Shillue noting that the folks in all these places were a little kooky, so yes, a reasonable government would BACK OFF). Nobody sensible wants that kind of bloodshed to happen again. But Maddow’s objection doesn’t seem to be about the victims of Waco whom she barely acknowledges. No, it’s about Fox News being paranoid about “jack-booted thugs” again. Again, paranoia and fear towards the government is the ultimate moral failing according to the MSNBC queen.

So, to demonstrate her true news bona fides on Wednesday, Maddow spent six minutes letting former ATF agent Jim Cavanaugh spout off about the dangerous cultists that he confronted in Waco. She doesn’t ask one single question that is remotely confrontational. She just lets him talk, then thanks him.

When researching my senior thesis on the media’s unquestioning narrative towards Ruby Ridge and Waco, one chapter in this compilation on Waco stood out and influenced my conclusions — the one that used Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent.  I have yet to read the latter work, but in the chapter the authors note that the victims of Waco were not, to use Chomsky’s term on how the media treats certain people, “worthy victims.” They were, as is and was endlessly repeated, members of a cult. They were strange and heavily armed and dared to resist federal agents. The Weavers were racist. Koresh probably molested children.

And, there were no photographs of the Waco victims when they died. Their deaths were simply a burning building a mile away. Hell, before the fire the feds refused to release the video the Davidians shot during the siege to the media because it would humanize them too much.

The same can be said about most war victims, at least where the American press is concerned. This point was raised disturbingly eloquently by none other than Timothy McVeigh back in a 1998 essay. And McVeigh’s crimes at Oklahoma City were captured by the famous photo of the fireman holding a dead toddler. Naturally this made the victims of McVeigh true and worthy ones. Waco didn’t have that. Sam and Vicki Weaver didn’t have that. They were weirdos and victims of law enforcement. They “deserved” it.” Just like foreigners in countries the US chooses to invade.

Had the media been honest at Waco, they would simply have said, “We don’t know what happened, though law enforcement says X.” They didn’t do that. They treated — and continue to treat — law enforcement as ivory tower experts, instead of individuals with their own biases and agendas. And at Waco, where the press were corralled more than a mile away, trusting the very people who were infringing upon their access was particularly lapdog-like.

Maddow is free to advocate for gun control all she likes. But her inability to admit that the victims of Waco and Ruby Ridge were real people, not just dog-whistle causes for the anti-government fringe she fears, makes her a callous hack and a true journalist in the saddest, most craven definition of the word.

The best summation of Ruby Ridge, culturally-speaking, is by bluegrass musician Peter Rowan. Here is Dave Rawlings and Old Crow Medicine Show covering it:

“I got a wife and kids on Ruby Ridge/Please don’t shoot me down.” Human beings were there, human beings died at Mt. Carmel —  this is something Maddow seems completely unable to grasp because it gets in the way of her agenda.

DEA_badge_CDon’t celebrate the ceasefire until the prisoners are freed:

On March 13, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued a ruling that may provide a benefit for a small but not insignificant number of the people arrested for marijuana in the state. Brandi Jessica Russell had her 2011 conviction for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana overturned, and this precedent could be applied to other specific cases where the defendants had appeals in process when Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed in November 2012.

The victory will be small, since most people charged with drug possession plead out instead. But it’s progress. And in spite of some handwringing about the legal precedent set by retroactively applying a law by such dissenters as The Denver Posteditorial board, this is a good thing. As Tom Angell, the founder of the Marijuana Majority, told me by email, “The voters of Colorado … declared the war on marijuana a failure on Election Day 2012. It’s very good news that their sensible action at the ballot box will not only prevent more people from being arrested under senseless prohibition laws but will provide help to those who have been caught in the grips of those laws in years past.”

The rest over here

policeCheck out the most recent Bad Cop Blotter:

On Friday, the district attorney’s office in Humboldt County, Nevada, agreed to return the $50,000 that had been seized from Tan Nguyen during a traffic stop on September 23, 2013. Nguyen had never been charged with a crime, much less convicted of anything—Humboldt County sheriff’s deputy Lee Dove pulled him over for allegedly going three miles over the speed limit, then searched his car without permission (though the cops claim consent was given) and found what Nguyen said was gambling winnings. The 37-year-old California resident’s luck clearly ran out when he was stopped by Dove, however, and according to his lawsuit, Nguyen was given a choice—give up his money or try to get home without his vehicle.

This wasn’t an isolated incident or a mistake on behalf of the cops. In a photo that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department put on Facebook (and has since deleted), Dove posed proudly with a police dog and the $50,000 he had seized. The officer, who is also accused of taking $13,800 and a handgun from another driver in a similarly flimsy traffic-stop scenario, is presumably feeling less puffed-up now. On Friday, the local district attorney’s office promised that that driver, Nguyen, and another person who had $2,400 taken, would get their cash back, and that forfeiture policy would be reevaluated.

Is it good that the DA is checking on these stories? Sure. Are these Nevada horror stories particularly surprising? Not if you know the bizarre state of asset-forfeiture laws.

The rest here

6-8-07-segway-policeBelow is my debut for Rare.us, the conservative/libertarian outlet. As is often the case, I rambled on about how cops have become soldiers, and how that is very bad indeed.

Knowing what 9/11 did to America, it would be easy to assume that an overeager desire to prevent another such tragedy is why our cops look and act more and more like the military these days.

Yet the drug war — first “declared” by Richard Nixon, then militarized by Ronald Reagan — and various laws that came out of the tough on drugs and crime panics of the ‘80s is why every small town seems to have a SWAT team today. Officer Friendly has been taken over by RoboCop.

Though the push-back against the drug war has begun at long last, thanks to successful legislation efforts in Colorado and Washington state, most legislators have yet to stare down the new face of the police themselves.

One rare exception is Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). On March 10, he co-authored a USA Today editorial in which he announced his plan to introduce legislation which would hinder the Pentagon’s 1033 program that allows police departments to acquire surplus military equipment.

But how much success will legislation have when it aims to restrict willing recipients from receiving tech that might just be destroyed? Not as much as it should.

Since 9/11, cops have been given more powers and privileges for fighting terrorism. The New York Police Department (NYPD) now performs a great deal of CIA-ish surveillance in the name of preventing another attack. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg even described the NYPD as his “private army.”

The rest here

 

401977_820298143983_859526031_nBelow is the second edition of “The War at Home” column. I tried to cram in a hasty lesson on the whys and the dangers of the militarized police in America.

Antiwar commenters are often yelling at me for being for open borders or for referring to Chelsea Manning as Chelsea Manning, but they may have a point about my final paragraph being misleading. Noted, commenters. Thanks for the lesson.

(I also should have headlined it “The Blurred Line Between Soldiers and Cops” because that so obviously sounds better. Ugh.)

Nevertheless, do check it out:

In a March 10 USA Today piece, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) expressed his desire to introduce legislation that would place limits on the Pentagon’s 1033 program which is used to supply police departments with gear that was once used on the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a long overdue “official” recognition that something terrible has happened to police departments in the US. Whether Johnson’s plan has a chance of getting anywhere remains to be seen. Because there are numerous firmly-stuck perverse incentives that lead to the state of policing today and which perpetuate it.

People who casually notice the more military-like qualities of American police would be forgiven for assuming their tactics, weapons, and menacing appearance are a result of post-9/11 fear. Though September 11 and subsequent scares and some real incidents such as the Boston Bombing have aggravated this problem – and there is a similar equipment grant program that comes from the Department of Homeland Security that Rep. Johnson should check on – the catalyst for our mutant police is narcotics prohibition.

Ronald Reagan’s literal drug war began in 1981 with the passage of the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Statute (10 USC 371-380). More loosened restrictions followed that allowed domestic assistance by the military to police in certain (usually drug) cases. It also set up a system where police departments could receive equipment through grants from the federal government. This lead to bizarre commando-style drug raids that sometimes included military helicopters, and even U-2 spy planes. (The flimsy accusation that the Branch Davidian sect had a meth lab was even the excuse for the presence of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and other military hardware during the disastrous 1993 standoff outside Waco, TX.)

Richard Nixon had declared a “war on drugs” in 1971 and pushed some bad policies – including a DC “no-knock raids” law – with limited success. But the conflict became the monster we see today under Reagan. Those years rocketed the US’s prison population to its current inhumane level of more than 2 million people, and they lead to the normalization of camo-clad cops kicking in doors over reports of weed or other drugs. The spike in crime in the 1990s cemented this supposed need for eternally tough on crime measures from police and politicians. Policies such as mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders made it clear this was was a serious enough issue to warrant life in prison for repeat, nonviolent drug dealers.

The rest over here

From the latest Bad Cop Blotter:

21-jump-street-posterOn December 11, 2012, 17-year-old Jesse Snodgrass and a few of his fellow students were sitting in their classes in Chaparral High School in Riverside County, California, when they were arrested by armed cops. That raid, dubbed “Operation Glasshouse,” also extended to other schools in the district. At the end of that day, police had arrested 22 students and seized undisclosed amounts of weed, cocaine, pills, heroin, and LSD. The police considered it a great success. Snodgrass’s parents were horrified.

The March 14 issue of Rolling Stone has a detailed, disturbing account of how Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Zipperstein went undercover at Chaparral and subsequently pretended to befriend Snodgrass (who suffers from autism, bipolar disorder, Tourette’s, and anxiety) and insisted he sell him $20 of weed on two occasions. It only took the 22-year-old cop 60 text messages and weeks of pestering to bend the vulnerable and largely friendless teenager to his will, but when Zipperstein failed to convince Snodgrass to sell him some of his anti-anxiety medication, the deputy stopped pretending to be his friend.

Snodgrass’s parents weren’t informed of his December 11 arrest until the school mentioned he wasn’t there. He spent three days in juvenile lockup, where it had to be explained to him what was going on. Once a judge realized Snodgrass’s health issues, the teen got off with 20 hours of community service and a commitment to stay out of further trouble for six months. But he became withdrawn, blank, and depressed after his arrest and confinement, and Chaparral expelled him. The Temecula Valley Unified School District spent six days at an appeal hearing in February 2013 trying to make sure Jesse stayed gone. An actual human with the actual title of director of Child Welfare and Attendance, Michael Hubbard (one of the few people in the school administration who had known about Operation Glasshouse before the arrests) testified that Jesse knew right from wrong. Hubbard added that he didn’t think the stings were “coercion or entrapment for any of the kids.” That is, an undercover cop begging an autistic teen (who hadn’t ever sold weed before) for drugs was acceptable activity in a high school.

You can read the rest here