Because I am Ferguson obsessed

and yet too busy to blog as much as I’d like this week due to the start of the semester, here’s another.  It’s a Robert Reich status update that is basically a blog post that I wrote in my head but never got around to writing here:

Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, is at least the fifth unarmed black man to be killed by a white police officer in the past month (along with Eric Garner of Staten Island, John Crawford of Ohio, Ezell Ford of Los Angeles, and Dante Parker of Victoville California). Most of the residents of Ferguson are black; almost all its police officers are white. Yet a new Pew poll shows Americans sharply divided over whether the shooting of Michael Brown raises an important issue of race. While 62% of white Democrats think it does, 61% or Republicans think it doesn’t, and that the issue of race has got too much attention in the shooting. On what planet are those who don’t believe race is at issue here living?

Seriously.  I would really like some follow-up questions with those who think the race angle is being overplayed here.

Tea Party and Ferguson

So, that last post about the NRA reminded me of something a friend and reader shared on FB earlier today.  What’s true about the NRA is far more true about the Tea Party.  From William Wilson:

I have an honest question. Where are all the constitution quoting, anti -government, tea partiers in Ferguson? I’m pretty sure there are a lot of rights being infringed upon. Yet, I havent’ heard a peep from Ron Paul, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Ted Nugent, or ANYONE! Isn’t the tea party’s whole purpose about keeping the government from doing EXACTLY what they are doing? Here is their chance to make a REAL stand, and prove that their cause is just and true, not racially or politically based. Their silence is deafening.

I’ve been told by my Tea Party friends (and yes I do have some) that the tea party isn’t about party or race. But about stopping the government from infringing upon the rights of US citizens. I’m looking forward to hearing them tell me why they aren’t represented in Ferguson. It’s been a week.

And let me be PERFECTLY CLEAR. I don’t think the Tea, Republican or Democrat party are racist institutions. But I do believe all three have racists in them; of the black and white persuasion.

It’s a real shame there has been actual violence, looting, etc., from among some of the protesters in Ferguson.  It makes it far too easy for those on the right to put this into their schema of dangerous, scary Black people that police can rightfully take any and all measures to protect them from.  Police certainly can and should use force when there is violence and looting.  Alas, that muddies the fact that, on the whole, the police have still been amazing excessive and amazingly unaccountable.


Where’s the NRA?

Love this from the Daily Beast’s Cliff Schecter:

The National Rifle Association has been warning us about the threat of a heavily-armed and dangerous government crushing dissent for decades. Their leader, Wayne LaPierre, even referred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as “jack-booted thugs.” 

Their dystopian nightmare sounds exactly like what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri.

Yet somehow, the NRA seems to have missed the whole thing with the SWAT teams and the tank-like vehicles and the snipers and the LRAD sound cannon and the tear gas and the rubber bullets being trained on unarmed Americans. Not a peep from LaPierre on this extended assault on citizens of Ferguson, at least that I can find.

If I were suspicious of their motives–and I am–I might point out that when I visited their 9 acres of militarized gun-fun also known as their convention in Indianapolis, I saw fewer black faces than in your average episode of The Dukes of Hazzard. I’d also point out that LaPierre blows just about every tune he knows on his dog whistle, when warning his membership of the horrors confronting them during this period when violent crime has fallen to its lowest level in a generation:

We don’t trust government, because government itself has proven unworthy of our trust. We trust ourselves and we trust what we know in our hearts to be right. We trust our freedom. In this uncertain world, surrounded by lies and corruption everywhere you look, there is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want. We know in the world that surrounds us there are terrorists and there are home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, knockout gamers, and rapers, and haters, and campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse our society that sustains us all.

Besides making you wonder who spiked his drink with goofballs, what jumps out about that friendly little harangue? Who do you think LaPierre’s speech is meant for when he mentions “terrorists” and “drug cartels” and “carjackers” and “knockout gamers?” I promise you the hardcore gun fetishists he’s preaching to are not picturing Eric Rudolph or George Jung.

I was never actually expecting logical consistency from the NRA.  But nice of Schecter to lay out who they really want those guns to protect themselves from.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus gallery of Ferguson:

Demonstrators raise their arms and chant, “Hands up, Don’t Shoot”, as police clear them from the street as they protest the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Over-zealous policing: it’s the incentives

I’m pretty sure I’ve written before on the scourge of democracy that is civil forfeiture– apparently not enough– (police have huge incentives to make drug arrests and legally seize the property of the alleged offenders).  Here’s a great post from Jordan Weissman on how police, like those in Ferguson, are given incentives to harass and nickel-and-dime their citizens to death to pay for their budget.  Bad incentives= bad outcomes:

When you split a metro area into dozens of tiny local governments (St. Louis County, to be clear, doesn’t include the actual city of St. Louis, which spun off from it in the 19th century), they tend to duplicate each others’ services, which is of course extremely expensive. But raising taxes so that each tiny borough can afford its own police and fire department is a nonstarter, since wealthy residents can always just move one town over. End result: You have police departments that self-fund by handing out tickets. And thanks to the delightful racial dynamics of U.S. law enforcement, black residents are disproportionately stopped and accosted, even though police in Ferguson are less likely to find contraband when they search black drivers than when they search whites.

Michael Brown wasn’t being pulled over for speeding when he was shot. But we’re talking about the broader issues that poison the relationship between a community and the cops who are, theoretically, paid to protect them.

In a way, you can think of it as a small-bore version of the problem with civil forfeiture laws, which allow state and federal governments to confiscate property allegedly involved in crimes and which are often accused of encouraging “for-profit policing.” The same way the Justice Department puts the heat on its lawyers to increase forfeiture claims in drug cases—because that’s where they can skim money—local police have every incentive to crank up their traffic stops.

If you want good policing, you need to give the police incentive to be good.  All too often the incentives for police are not to protect and to serve, but to arrest and make cash.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Parenting habits from around the world that have not caught on in the US.  I love the non paranoia parenting of the Danish and Japanese.

2)  I truly believe the horrible-ness (especially the fundraising) keeps many very good people from running for political office (all the more reason I’m impressed my friend Sarah Crawford is doing it anyway).

3) FIFA is planning on having the women’s World Cup played on artificial turf.  So wrong.  And such an insult to women athletes.

4) Loved this Slate piece on the evolution of the SEC logo (and the bigger story of letters in circle logos).

5) From what I’ve read so far, I find the indictment of Rick Perry utterly ridiculous.  I suspect most of the liberals happy about this have their liberal blinders one.  Within a very wide latitude, politics should not be criminalized.

6) Loved this story on African Wild Dogs (apparently, they are almost the honeybees of the mammal world in terms of their level of social evolution).

7) Among all the wrongness of the Ferguson police, directly attacking the media is about as bad as it gets.

8) Don’t ask your kids what to do.  Tell them what to do.  (Of course, I need to make sure they actually do what I tell them).

9) No, arming the Syrian rebels would not have stopped ISIS.

10) Great Krugman column on the libertarian fantasy.  (Think “Toledo water).;

11) There’s a pretty easy technological solution to dramatically reduce police brutality.  And false charges of police brutality.  Police should wear video cameras.  It has worked great in once city.

12) The Upshot on the rise of pizza.  Hooray– certainly has made my life better.

13) Emily Bazelon on the police and race.

Quick hits (part I)

Another multi quick-hits weekend.  Enjoy.

1) Pope Francis’ list of tips for becoming a happier person.  Not bad.

2) Five myths about the border crisis.  Myth #1:

1. U.S. immigration policy is to blame for the surge of unaccompanied minors.

3) Hit the reset button on your brain?

Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.

If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.

Nope, don’t see this happening for me.

4) Speaking of which… fascinating experiment of what happens when a reporter literally “likes” every single post on FB.

5) A happy marriage without children.  Well, of course.  But you damn sure better really like your spouse.

6) Of course, if you do have kids, don’t go to prison.  Our inhumane system will make it absurdly expensive and difficult to stay in touch with them.

7) Also, careful with getting yourself on the sex offender registry.  Even the parent who helped initially push it says it is way over-used now.

8) Was a decrease in testosterone among early human males responsible for eventually leading to civilization?  Makes sense to me.  And some science to support the idea.

9) States with stand your ground laws have more homicides.  I’m shocked.  Shocked.

10) I’m often amazed at how my students’ typos just seem to jump off the page at me whereas my own remain virtually invisible.  Here’s the science behind why this is.  I strongly encourage my students to have a friend read their paper for this reason.  Quite clearly, few actually do (or they have lame friends).  While I’m at… many of them really need to be a lot more careful with their use of the thesaurus.  I don’t have any examples quite this extreme, but my students are using words they don’t actually understand all the time.

11) Great TNR piece from Jason Zengerle about how Civil Rights are going backwards in Alabama.

12)  Veal farmers are adopting more human methods.  On the downside for veal lovers (I never eat it), this apparently means it tastes less like veal and more like regular beef.

13) The Post has a piece on NC Senator Kay Hagan looking to benefit from the backlash against the Republican-led legislature.  I’ve already seen several ads on this theme.

14) Cool study shows that reading about discrimination against “Mudbloods” in Harry Potter can help make kids more tolerant.  Awesome.

What if Michael Brown were a criminal?

I read something on this point earlier this week that was even better, but cannot find it.  Ezra’s is really good, too, though:

During Friday’s press conference, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson tried to sow doubt that Brown really was One Of The Good Ones. He released stills from a “strong-arm robbery” showing someone who might be Brown grabbing a convenience-store clerk by his collar and throwing him backwards. The Good Ones don’t rob convenience stores. The Good Ones don’t assault clerks.

But this is a sick conversation. The Good Ones don’t deserve to be shot when they’re surrendering. But neither does anyone else.

It doesn’t matter that Michael Brown was starting college on Monday. And it doesn’t matter if he was involved in a robbery on Saturday. What matters is the precise circumstances in which Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown…

This case is not about whether Michael Brown was One Of The Good Ones. It’s not even about whether he robbed a convenience store. The penalty for stealing cigars from a convenience store is not death. This case is about whether Wilson was legally justified in shooting Michael Brown.

It is a powerful thing to give some men and women guns and charge them with protecting the peace. It is a powerful thing because it can so easily, and so quickly, become a dangerous thing. As a society, we strictly regulate when police officers can use deadly force. The question here is whether those rules were followed, not what kind of kid Michael Brown was.

Coolest interactive infographic ever?

It’s got to be close.  This feature from the NYT’s Upshot, shows the immigration patterns (domestic and foreign) for every US state.  So cool!  Here’s NC:



Very cool to play with all the states and see, for example that Nevada is only 25% native-born Nevada residents as compared to 77% in Michigan.  So cool.  

More Ferguson

1) The very fact that a new approach totally de-escalated the situation shows how wrong the original, hyper-militarized approach was.

2) This set of pictures from successive evenings is worth well over 1000 words:

Associated Press

Matt Pearce

3) Vox coverage has been phenomenal.  An expert on policing conflicts zones:

Trying to intimidate the crowds off the street, especially considering that it’s a protest against police aggression — well, it’s just stupid. It’s going to exacerbate the problem…

ZB: From your description, it sounds like they’re taking military equipment, and using it to do utterly incompetent police work.

JF: That is exactly correct…

ZB: Does there even need to be a huge police presence here? Maybe there was when, say, the QuikTrip got burned on Sunday night. But right now, these are mostly nonviolent protests.

JF: That’s a very good question. I don’t have the answer.

Even with the scattered reports I’ve heard of the occasional Molotov cocktails, or seeing firearms in the crowd, these are things police are trained to handle. There are certainly phalanx things they can do get these extremely violent people out of the crowd. But if there’s just a peaceful protest, I don’t see the utility of what they’re doing.

If they’re thinking about storming something, I get that. But that doesn’t seem to be what the protestors are trying to do.

ZB: If you were put in command of the police in Ferguson today, what would you tell them to do?

JF: I would send everyone home.

4) Former Seattle police chief:

I would also say that if you’re not collaborating with the community in advance of these situations, if you’re not forging joint policy-making and decision-making, then you’re essentially distancing yourself from the community. You’re isolating yourself from the community when you need to be joining with that community and carving out guidelines or rules of constructive engagement, rather than escalating the potential for and the reality of violence in that relationship…

AT: One thing that has surprised me, looking at some of these images, is what seems to be a really widespread use of rifles. That police are not just out in force with rifles kind of hanging at their side, but that they’re actually holding them and pointing them at people.

NS: More likely than not, what you’re looking at are the so-called rubber bullets that are fired from what appear to be military rifles. You may be looking at that beanbag technology.

I think it’s so important to hold those kinds of weapons in reserve, and use them or show them only when you’re dealing with a violent confrontation. Keeping the peace at a demonstration essentially means having police officers in standard everyday uniforms not military garb.

It means doing everything they can to demonstrate the de-escalation tactics and techniques, and not allowing themselves to get hooked emotionally. That requires not just sound policies and procedures and excellent training and supervision, it requires individual maturity on the part of every police officer.

It requires self-confidence — maybe even a dose of courage — to not overreact, but police officers who view themselves as in opposition to their communities have a tendency to view the community as the enemy. In the process they become an occupational force where they are in charge — in the name of control, in the name of public safety, taking actions that actually undermine legitimate control, is foolhardy at best…

The one thing I would say is to reserve SWAT, reserve that equipment and those tactics for active shooter cases, barricaded suspects, armed and dangerous barricaded suspects with hostages. Do not employ those tactics, that equipment on routine drug raids or warrants service, or any other situation where you don’t have what I would consider to be inherently dangerous circumstances.

AT: Would you include crowd control as an inherently dangerous circumstance?

NS: I would not. How often do we hear of political, social upheaval, the demonstrations that accompany the questioning and the concerns about police behavior, that have individuals who are armed within the crowd? If you don’t have that, there is no justification I think for the kind of equipment that we’re talking about.

5) Political Science research shows that who protests strongly affects how police respond.  And I don’t need to tell you how.

6) Ezra makes the strong American empirical case that the American criminal justice system is racist.  Honestly, to argue otherwise is to stick your head in the sand.

7) Love this collection of tweets from Army veterans calling out the police for their extreme tactics.

8) Twice on FB I and/or friend have been accused of armchair Quarterbacking for raising the issue of an over-militarized police force.  Is this some Fox News meme?  All of a sudden you need to have served as a police officer in crowd control to have concerns about civil liberties?


I’m completely captivated and appalled by the events in Ferguson, MO.  Especially that in this day and age you can have a almost entirely white police force in a majority Black city come rolling in with tanks, full military gear, etc.  And arrest reporters while there at it.  What is this, 1965?  Some really, really good reporting on various aspects– especially the militarization of the police.

Great piece in Business Insider:

Putting aside what started the protests for a moment, it’s worth discussing the police response to the outrage. In photos taken Monday, we are shown a heavily armed SWAT team.

They have short-barreled 5.56-mm rifles based on the military M4 carbine, with scopes that can accurately hit a target out to 500 meters. On their side they carry pistols. On their front, over their body armor, they carry at least four to six extra magazines, loaded with 30 rounds each.

Their uniform would be mistaken for a soldier’s if it weren’t for their “Police” patches. They wear green tops, and pants fashioned after the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT camouflage pattern. And they stand in front of a massive uparmored truck called a Bearcat, similar in look to a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or as the troops who rode in them call it, the MRAP.

When did this become OK? When did “protect and serve” turn into “us versus them”?

“Why do these cops need MARPAT camo pants again,” I asked on Twitter this morning. One of the most interesting responses came from a follower who says he served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division: “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone.”

Ferguson Missouri

Police wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised Monday in Ferguson, Missouri.

Jamelle Bouie:

What’s more, Ferguson police have used armored vehicles to show force and control crowds. In one photo, riot gear-clad officers are standing in front of a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, barking commands and launching tear gas into groups of demonstrators and journalists.

This would be one thing if Ferguson were in a war zone, or if protesters were violent—although, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which American police would need a mine-resistant vehicle. But an episode of looting aside, Ferguson police aren’t dealing with any particular danger. Nonetheless, they’re treating demonstrators—and Ferguson residents writ large—as a population to occupy, not citizens to protect.

This is part of a broader problem…

If you know anything about the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, then it also shouldn’t shock you to learn that SWAT deployments are used disproportionately in black and Latino neighborhoods. The ACLU finds that 50 percent of those impacted by SWAT deployments were black and Latino. Of these deployments, 68 percent were for drug searches. And a substantial number of drug searches—60 percent—involved violent tactics to force entry, which lead predictably and avoidably to senseless injury and death.

The fact that police are eager to use their new weapons and vehicles isn’t a surprise. As the New York Times notes, “The ubiquity of SWAT teams has changed not only the way officers look, but also the way departments view themselves. Recruiting videos feature clips of officers storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons.” Put simply, when you give anyone toys, you have to expect they’ll play with them. [emphasis mine]

That is how we get images like the ones in Ferguson, where police officers brandish heavy weapons and act as an occupying force. We should expect as much when we give police departments military weapons. Already—when it comes to predominantly black and brown communities—there’s a long-standing culture of aggressive, punitive policing. Add assault weapons and armored vehicles, and you have a recipe for the repressive, violent reactions that we see in Ferguson, and that are likely inevitable in countless other poor American neighborhoods.

Washington Post and HuffPo reporters arrested for not getting out of McDonald’s fast enough.  Really?!  The first-person account.  And video.

“I hope you’re happy with yourself,” one officer told me. And I responded: “This story’s going to get out there. It’s going to be on the front page of The Washington Post tomorrow.”

And he said, “Yeah, well, you’re going to be in my jail cell tonight.”

A former reporter friend wrote:

Watching things unfold in Ferguson, it seems like the police and local government studied how to respond to a crisis and then decided to do the exact opposite.

Fascinating. Inept. Monumentally stupid.

Nice set of photos from Newsweek.

Just horrible.  Upsetting.  Depressing.  Hopefully Americans are at least learning about their over-militarized police forces and thinking twice.  Not that I’m optimistic that will help.  Ugh.

Janitors vs. Janitors

When the NC legislature had to find money for the teacher raise this year, apparently they decided to take the money where they could, from with in the overall education budget.   The result is pretty perverse.  WRAL’s Laura Leslie reports:

— Legislative leaders have talked a lot this summer about the raises they gave to public school teachers and most state employees, but they don’t have as much to say about the raises for educational support staff in the state budget.

The $21.1 billion budget, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law last week, included raises averaging 5.5 percent, plus longevity pay, for teachers and $1,000 and an extra week of vacation for other state workers. But more than 59,200 non-certified school employees – teaching assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and administrative staff – received only a $500 raise.

“That’s not equitable. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Chris Bridges, who has worked 21 years in the Wake County Public School System Transportation Office.

Bridges noted that, if he did his job at a state agency instead of a school district, his raise would have been double what he will see in the coming year – and he would have gotten more time off.

“We all work for the public, and we should all get the same thing,” he said. “What you do for one, you do for all, because we’re all in the same boat. I still got to pay my mortgage. I still got to pay the light bill.”

Non-certified school workers are some of the lowest-paid public-sector workers in North Carolina. They haven’t had a real raise since 2008, and Bridges said $500 barely qualifies as one now.

Got that?  Work as a secretary for the state Department of Energy, get $1000 and 5 vacation days.  Work as a secretary for a school, get $500.  Not to mention the total inadequacy of these raises when there’s been almost nothing since 2008.  State employees (including me) have seen a huge decrease in real, inflation adjusted pay.  And why can’t we do better now that the economy is improving?  That’s easy, that money was allocated in last year’s budget to the state’s most well-off residents via hefty tax cuts.

Of course, the perpetrators of this are not so happy about it being made public.  On FB, Leslie also wrote:

Getting blasted on Twitter by the Lockies, Americans for Prosperity and Tillis’s staff for tonight’s story. Must have hit a nerve.


I gave House leaders two days and Senate leaders one day to find someone to put in front of a camera to defend the decision. Not one taker. That tells you something.

Indeed it does.


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