The never-ending evil of the war on drugs

What does it take to have a SWAT team come and raid you and terrorize your family in the middle of the night?  How about some tea leaves in your trash that test positive on a field drug test that is proven unreliable and the fact that you shop at garden stores.  Seriously.  And this was even middle class white people (former CIA employees, even) to boot!  And this is all good with a federal judge, because… drugs.  Ugh!  I swear the depravity of our war on drugs just knows no bounds.  Read the whole Radley Balko piece if you can stomach it.  Some day in the future (I hope) we look back on our horribly misguided war on drugs and just shake our heads and wonder whether people of the time werer suffering from some mass delusion (in a sense, we are).  Of course drugs cause harm, but at this point I would have to say the evidence seems pretty damn clear that the damage we are doing to our society through the “war on drugs” is far worse than the damage from actual drug use.  Balko:

In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home. He was told to lie on the floor. When Addie Harte came out to see what was going on, she saw her husband on his stomach as SWAT cop stood over him with a gun. The family was then held at gunpoint for more than two hours while the police searched their home. Though they claimed to be looking for evidence of a major marijuana growing operation, they later stated that they knew within about 20 minutes that they wouldn’t find any such operation. So they switched to search for evidence of  “personal use.” They found no evidence of any criminal activity.

The investigation leading to the raid began at least seven months earlier, when Robert Harte and his son went to a gardening store to purchase supplies to grow hydroponic tomatoes for a school project. A state trooper had been positioned in the store parking lot to collect the license plate numbers of customers, compile them into a spreadsheet, then send the spreadsheets to local sheriff’s departments for further investigation. Yes,merely shopping at a gardening store could make you the target of a criminaldrug investigation…

The deputies repeatedly found “saturated plant material” that they thought could possibly be marijuana. On two occasions, a drug testing field kit inexplicably indicated the presence of THC, the active drug in marijuana. It was on the basis of those tests and Harte’s patronage of a gardening store that the police obtained the warrant for the SWAT raid.

But, of course, they found nothing. Lab tests would later reveal that the “saturated plant material” was actually loose-leaf tea, which Addie Harte drinks on a regular basis. Why did the field tests come up positive for pot?  As I wrote back in February, it’s almost as if these tests come up positive whenever the police need them to. A partial list of substances that the tests have mistaken for illegal drugs would include sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, soap, tortilla dough, deodorant, billiard’s chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mints, Jolly Ranchers and vitamins.

Even worse.  The response of our legal system:

Once they had been cleared of any wrongdoing, the Hartes wanted to know what happened. Why had they been raided? What possible probable cause could the police have had for sending a SWAT team into their home first thing in the morning? But even that information would prove difficult to obtain. Under Kansas law, the sheriff’s department wasn’t obligated to turn over any information related to the raid — not to the Hartes, not to the media, not to anyone. The couple eventually had to hire an attorney to get a judge to order the sheriff to release the information. They spent more than $25,000 in legal fees just to learn why the sheriff had sent a SWAT team into their home. Once they finally had that information, the Hartes filed a lawsuit.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed every one of the Hartes’s claims. Harte found that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on no more than a positive field test and spotting a suspect at a gardening store was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He found that the police had probable cause for the search, and that the way the search was conducted did not constitute excessive force. He found that the Hartes had not been defamed by the raid or by the publicity surrounding it. He also ruled that the police were under no obligation to know that drug testing field kits are inaccurate, nor were they obligated to wait for the more accurate lab tests before conducting the SWAT raid. The only way they’d have a claim would be if they could show that the police lied about the results, deliberately manipulated the tests or showed a reckless disregard for the truth — and he ruled that the Hartes had failed to do so.

And stuff like this just happens all the time.  And because it happens all the time, most of us (Thank God for Radley Balko), just don’t even pay any attention.  If news covered stuff that actually mattered, we’d have stuff like this and the abomination that is civil forfeiture on there all the time and a lot less mayhem and gossip.  But, in the end, this is our war on drugs until we force the politicians to change it or change the politicians in power over this.

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Trump the Know-Nothing

The Know-Nothings are my absolute favorite historical American political party.  Among other things, as a Catholic, I’ve always taken a perverse enjoyment in their rabid anti-Catholicism.  I love surprising my students every semester by explaining that a political party was remarkably successful in the 1850’s while being amazingly, overtly xenophobic.  Anyway, as John Cassidy makes the (obvious) Trump comparison, I could not resist sharing the best parts (and the nice Know Nothing history for those of you who know nothing– or little– about Know-Nothings).

The Know-Nothings originated as secret societies of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants angered by an influx of immigrants, particularly Irish Roman Catholics who were crossing the Atlantic to flee poverty and find work in the rapidly industrializing U.S. economy. The Know-Nothings got their name because, when asked about their clandestine activities, they often said, “I know nothing.” Fearful of popery, liquor, and big-city political machines that harvested the votes of new arrivals, they called for restrictions on immigration, the closure of saloons, and a ban on foreign-born people holding public office. “Americans must rule America,” they said. [emphases mine]

Prefiguring Trump’s remarks about Mexicans, the Know-Nothings also portrayed many immigrants as criminals…

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a like-minded publication said that crime had reached epidemic proportions, and that the perpetrators “are FOREIGNERS in nine cases out of ten.” In Cleveland, the Express identified one of the sources of the crime wave as the Roman Catholic confessional box, whose users “know no matter what the deed, they will be forgiven.”

In early 1854, Know-Nothing candidates won citywide offices in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Coming together as a formal political organization for the first time, they adopted the name the American Party and swept statewide offices in Massachusetts, Maryland, and other states. In the run-up to the 1856 Presidential election, the Know-Nothings put together a Trumpian platform that demanded the repeal of naturalization laws, the banning of the foreign-born from public office, and the deportation of foreign-born paupers, including children.

As with the Trump phenomenon, economic concerns reinforced the Know-Nothing movement’s ethnic, religious, and cultural underpinnings. In Massachusetts, for instance, Know-Nothing politicians did best in industrial areas, where native workers were competing with Irish immigrants. With the rise of the Republican Party and the onset of the Civil War, the Know-Nothings entered a precipitous decline, but the prejudices and anxieties that motivated them never fully went away…

Over the years, of course, other Republican politicians, such as Pete Wilson, Pat Buchanan, and Tom Tancredo, have sought to exploit nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment. But none had the celebrity or media savvy of Trump. And each of them, unlike him, had to bear the heavy burden of being perceived as a career politician. Trump, with his money and name recognition, is largely liberated from the normal conventions of party politics. And, with his background in entertainment and television, he knows how to exploit a chaotic nomination process that has been transformed, over recent election cycles, into a daily reality show that runs for more than a year…

Trump, for reasons that historians have rightly emphasized, shouldn’t be compared to a Goebbels or a Mussolini on this front. But, in the six months since he launched his campaign, he has revived the Know-Nothing movement, plumbed new depths of divisive rhetoric, and established himself as a shameless demagogue. With five weeks left until the first vote is cast in Iowa, that is more than enough to be getting along with.

Anyway, great stuff.  Not much for me to add.

The non-indictment

Two best things I’ve read on the non-indictment in the Tamir Rice case are both in Slate.  First Leon Neyfakh with a look at complex legal issues surrounding “officer-created jeopardy”

McGinty’s office made the case for the non-indictment during an extended press conference this afternoon. But the central concept in the case—the one that it is crucial to understanding the grand jury’s reasoning—was never mentioned. That concept is known in law enforcement circles as “officer-created jeopardy”: situations in which police officers are responsible for needlessly putting themselves in danger, committing an unforced tactical error that makes them vulnerable—and then using deadly force to protect themselves.

Here’s how “officer-created jeopardy” relates to the death of Tamir Rice. As security footage of the shooting shows, Loehmann and Garmback’s car didn’t come to a stop until it was right next to Rice. In fact, the video indicates that the car was still moving when Loehmann opened the passenger side door and jumped out. Faced with a suspect they believed to be armed, in other words, Loehmann and Garmback decided to drive right up to him—thereby exposing themselves to the possibility that Rice could open fire on them with almost no warning.

The question the grand jurors had to answer, then, was whether to take that decision into account when determining the legality of the officers’ actions. Did it matter that no one forced Loehmann and Garmback to approach their suspect so aggressively? Did it matter that, by approaching him the way they did, they were the ones who had created the situation in which it then became necessary, in Loehmann’s view at least, to use deadly force?

There is no legal consensus on this…

And then a nice discussion of the complex legal issues and interpretations.  It does seem to me, though, that even if officer-created jeopardy” is not in legal play in should be in administrative play and no way does an officer who acted so foolishly to create a situation where he felt (supposedly reasonably) that he had to shoot somebody just get off completely.  There’s just no way that police officers who behave in this manner should continue to be police officers.  It would be nice if we could at least agree on that.

Meanwhile, a terrific post (I think this is going into the next Criminal Justice Policy syllabus) from Jamelle Bouie on how we look at the role of police officers and their safety.  In truth, part of being a police officer is to face greater danger so that ordinary community members face less.  When police officer safety– rather than public safety– becomes the number one priority, though, that leads to some perverse consequences:

Strip away the rhetoric, and McGinty [Cuyahoga County prosecutor] has made a clear statement about police conduct: If police perceive a threat to their lives then they’ve de facto justified their actions regardless of context, even if it ends with taking the life of a child. That includes situations like the Rice shooting, where police chose to create a confrontation, rather than manage an encounter.

More broadly, police are empowered to take control of all situations by any means necessary, even those that aren’t criminal. They have no obligation to survey a situation to seek the least violent resolution. Taken together, these prerogatives—established time and again, by departments across the country—encourage police to use lethal force as the first resort…

What we see with Tamir Rice—and what we’ve seen in shootings across the country—is what happens when the officer’s safety supercedes the obligation to accept risk. If “going home” is what matters—and risk is unacceptable—then the instant use of lethal force makes sense. It’s the only thing that guarantees complete safety from harm.

It’s also antithetical to the call to “serve and protect.” But it’s the new norm. And worse for any accountability, it sits flush with our broad sympathy with police in the courts of law and public opinion.[emphasis mine] So that, when police kill someone in this relentless drive to reduce risk, it’s almost impossible to hold officers accountable, barring incredible circumstances. The public just accepts that this is what police had to do…

Given this status quo, Tamir Rice—his shooting and the officers’ acquittal—is inevitable. Indeed, it’s almost certain to happen again, since the system isn’t equipped to push back on these new norms of policing and the extraordinary benefit of the doubt that police receive…

Unaccountable lethal force defines contemporary law enforcement, at least for black Americans and other minorities, and barring a sea change in attitudes among the majority of Americans, there’s little reason to think that will change.

Yes, yes, yes!  Hopefully some good will come from this, but really, if we really want change in police shootings and police accountability it is long past time to re-think our conceptualization of police and public safety.

Photo of the day

Another from the NYT’s year in pictures:

CLEARLAKE, CALIF. 8/3/2015

A firefighter was silhouetted by his headlamp as he battled the Rocky Fire, a wildfire that spread over three counties and burned over 60,000 acres.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Photo of the day

From the NYT’s year in pictures:

JOHANNESBURG 5/6/2015

St. Petersburg Ballet Theater dancers took a break before a show during their global season tour.

Mujahid Safodien/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

 

Of Trump and disgust

I wanted to write a post tying Donald Trump’s far too easily disgusted personality (Hillary Clinton uses the bathroom!) to some really interesting research on disgust and partisanship, but I got too lazy.  But now that Wonkblog has gone to the trouble, I will paste liberally, as this is really great stuff:

In fact, a growing mass of academic research has shown that conservatives have a particular revulsion to “disgusting” images…

Some of the recent research has been most pronounced evaluating the differing responses of conservatives and liberals to “disgusting” or “negative” images. Several studies have shown that conservatives are far more likely to have strong reactions to these images or situations than moderates or liberals are. [emphasis mine] Researchers have also suggested that conservatives are more likely to respond negatively to threats or be prone to believe conspiracies, perhaps helping explain why Trump’s calls to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States or build a wall at the southern border have resonated with many voters…

With a more than 90 percent success rate, the researchers were able to predict whether the participants were conservative or liberals based on how regions of their brains lit up while viewing the images. And it turned out that conservatives had a much stronger reaction to disgusting images than liberals. Reactions to other types of images were not predicted by political views.

“Disgusting images … generate neural responses that are highly predictive of political orientation,” the authors write. “Remarkably, brain responses to a single disgusting stimulus were sufficient to make accurate predictions about an individual subject’s political ideology.”

Actually, just the other day I was out with my two way-too-easily-disgusted sons and saying that I was worried they might end up Republicans because of this personality trait.  They are both plenty liberal now (especially so on environmental issues), but if they end up conservative, I will be blaming their heightened sense of disgust.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s pictures of the week:

A pair of walkers trek through deep snow so they can experience the force of a powerful waterfall up close. Huge amounts of water flow down the staircase of tiers at the Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland, a popular tourist attraction in the country. Visitors have been known to brave temperatures as cold as -30 degrees C for a glimpse of the natural phenomenon but rarely get as close as this couple. They are just tiny figures in the vast expanse of snow, water and rock which surround the waterfall where it turns sharply at 90 degrees.

A pair of walkers trek through deep snow so they can experience the force of the Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland. Visitors have been known to brave temperatures as cold as -30 degrees C for a glimpse of the natural phenomenon but rarely get as close as this couple.Picture: Larissa Sherwood/Solent News

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