Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, December 26, 2014 3:50 pm

Letters to the Editor, edited, for a change

As someone who has criticized the News & Record on multiple occasions for allowing writers of letters to the editor to spew fanciful notions as if they were fact, I feel obliged to recognize the paper’s efforts to correct such misimpressions not once but twice today.

First, in his LTE regarding the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Mark Underwood of Eden incorrectly stated: “The police officer said he told Rice to ‘put his hands up’ three times before shooting. This hasn’t been officially disproven so far.” The accompanying editor’s note read, “According to the police video, the Rice shooting took 1.5 seconds.” Here’s the video; feel free to use your own stopwatch. And ask yourself: If you were to tell a suspect three times, “Put your hands up!” and allow even the briefest moment in between repetitions for the suspect to comply, how long wold that have taken? Five seconds? Longer? Longer, certainly, than the time it took the police to shoot Tamir Rice upon their arrival.

Then, Ramon Bell of Stokesdale states of the death of Eric Garner from a chokehold by New York City police: “This should never have been classified a homicide. It was caused by the acts of Garner and existing medical conditions only he knew about; i.e., severe asthma, something the arresting officers had no reason to know.” I’m not sure where Bell, a retired Greensboro police officer, got his medical degree — Kmart, perhaps. But, as the editor’s note points out: “The medical examiner concluded that a chokehold caused Garner’s death, but added that asthma, obesity and cardiovascular disease were contributing factors.” If the chokehold caused Garner’s death, then this was a homicide — whether justifiable or not is up to a court to decide, inasmuch as chokeholds are banned.

The N&R has been punked many times by letter writers both sincerely misguided and flatly dishonest, as well as having published a number of Internet chain emails that were never independently verified. It’s good to see the paper attempting to sort through the dross to enlighten its readers, if only for a day.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014 12:41 pm

Anti-police? Or pro-police, pro-public?

One would like to think that a guy who worked his way up from Drug Enforcement Administration agent to assistant director of that agency, a guy who served as both head of witness protection and associate director for operations of the U.S. Marshals’ Service, a guy who served as both fire commissioner and police commissioner for the City of New York, a guy who now gets paid very high dollars to do security consulting, would be able to face a little criticism without soiling his drawers.

One would like to think that.

But one would be wrong.

Howard Safir, the guy who has held all those positions, is crying hysterically that the criticism police now are facing in the U.S. is unmatched in the past 45 years.

He is wrong. Factually, objectively wrong.

He writes, “We have seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest offices in the land.” In fact, nothing that President Obama or New York Mayor Bill diBlasio has said can rationally be construed as “police bashing.”

He writes that Eric Garner and Michael Brown died resisting arrest. Garner was doing nothing of the sort when he was slain with an illegal choke hold. And even if one accepts that Michael Brown tried to reach into Officer Darren Wilson’s car and was justifiably shot and wounded for doing so, there is no credible evidence that Brown posed an immediate threat to Wilson or other civilians when Wilson fired the final, fatal shots.

He writes that current levels of “anti-police rhetoric” are unparalled in the past 45 years.  However, anyone who was around in the late 1960s and early 1970s recalls that violent clashes between police and protesters were commonplace. And the protesters were raising hell about that, often in very intemperate language.

Today? There have been some clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in which the language has been intemperate, but on nowhere near the scale of decades ago.

No, what’s going on today is something different — something pro-public and, I would argue, pro-police. I don’t mean “pro-police” in the mindlessly jingoistic sense, but pro-police in the very practical sense of making law enforcement officers’ jobs safer and easier.

People are asking for the police to be open about and accountable for their actions. They are asking for law enforcement to stop discriminating against African Americans, which research shows it indubitably does. And they are insisting that the police be bound to obey the same laws the rest of us must.

Now unlike some people, I don’t think police are any worse-behaved today than they’ve ever been. In fact, they’re arguably much better behaved in most jurisdictions. But when everybody with a phone has a camera, police malfeasance is much more likely to be publicized than it used to be. And the larger number of reported incidents, with greater detail, reaching more people on social media, with accompanying demands that police be held accountable, looks, to the casual observer, like it might be anti-police.

It isn’t. People are insisting, rather, that cops restore “to protect and serve” to a phrase of some intellectual and moral value by behaving themselves, by treating everyone fairly including minorities who long have been treated disproportionately more harshly by law enforcement, and by being subject to the same administrative discipline or criminal punishment as anyone else would be who had misbehaved similarly.

There are some good reasons why law enforcement should want to do those things — and not only because they comports with the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and with the Golden Rule.

Comporting with those standards is important for its own sake. But when cops behave openly and appropriately and transparently, and are publicly disciplined when they don’t, the public’s trust in and respect for law enforcement grows. And that growth has two major practical benefits for law enforcement.

First, it makes the public more likely to confide in and cooperate with police, in both day-to-day interactions and in assisting with difficult investigations. That makes a cop’s job easier.

Second, that increased trust and respect make it less likely that a minor, routine incident will escalate into the kind of situation that could end up with a cop dead, or with a civilian unjustifiably dead and a cop’s career and perhaps life ruined. That makes a cop’s job safer.

I would think that every cop, and everyone who supports cops, would want that the job to be easier and safer.

So why would Howard Safir so blatantly mischaracterize what’s being said and done in American communities around the issue of unchecked, unaccountable law enforcement? I can only speculate.

Some possible answers: He’s genuinely uninformed in general and uninformed about how social media works in particular. He’s genuinely uninformed about the statistics showing hugely disproportionate differences between how police treat middle-class Caucasians and how they treat African Americans of pretty much any class. He is informed, but he’s locked into an outdated mindset in which rule of the police is absolute, rather than a role of community servant leadership. Maybe he just listens to too much Fox News, whose incendiary, race-baiting rhetoric is deliberately clouding the issue.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that Safir needs to put on some clean undies and start asking himself about the best, fairest way to serve the community — the whole community.

That’s all most Americans are asking for.

Friday, December 19, 2014 8:35 pm

Get a clue: Your tender fee-fees do not trump HUMAN LIFE

This is a point I’ve made many times in the past, usually in the context of privileged conservatives trying to cast themselves as victims.

Athenae at First Draft:

Your vague resentment of a public worker’s pension doesn’t mean he shouldn’t eat.

Your unnerved-ness about gay people doesn’t mean someone else should be prevented from receiving full equality under the l aw.

Your discomfort with abortion doesn’t mean a woman should die from a medical procedure.

Your belief in God doesn’t mean an atheist owes you something.

And once and for all time, mah fellow white peoples, your itch when you see a black dude you do not know is not something black people are required to indulge by dying.

People keep trotting out “sincere beliefs” as the reason their idiocies should be tolerated, as the reason minority groups or anyone they consider “other” should continue to be beaten down. As if the foibles of the fearful are equivalent to the beat of a human heart.

You’re entitled to your opinion. You’re even entitled to your “sincere belief,” as misguided, or, indeed, wackaloon, as it be. But you’re not entitled to have your feelings, your opinions, your sincere beliefs indulged at every turn, and you’re sure as hell not entitled to that indulgence if your tender fee-fees have a body count. Indeed, all you’re entitled to then is ridicule, or worse.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 9:52 pm

(Pop) art, life, and American journalism

So Athenae at First Draft watched all the episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s now-defunct show “The Newsroom” so that I didn’t have to. And in reflecting on the last episode, she crosses some of the show’s content and character with a recent tweet by NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen [not linked, at least for now, because Jay’s account has been suspended for some reason] to come up with this:

Nobody’s coming to save American journalism. Nobody’s coming to save anybody who gives a s—. Nobody, not Charlie Skinner and not Will McAvoy and not even Maggie Jordan — Maggie whose transformation is one of my favorite things about this show, Maggie who just wanted to work — is gonna fix this now. Nobody’s the future and nobody’s the savior and nobody is going to rescue Atlantis Cable News. Lucas Pruitt is a [bleep] and will always be. That fight is always going to be a fight.

Hear that, hear what it actually means. That condemnation is its own redemption. No one is coming to save you. Repeat after me. Nobody is coming to save you. So save your own [bleep] [bleep] glorious selves. Think about the freedom of that. Think about the way it unties you, shoves you off the cliff, and trusts you to fly.

It’s up to you. I talk about this all the time in my offline and online lives, in my life: If you give a [bleep] about something you are the one who is morally obligated to act, so spare me your peroration on how you’d show up at the protest if only the other people there were dressed the way you wanted them dressed. Spare me the opinion columns about the wars you think other people’s children should fight, the wars you yourself have such a good reason for not fighting.

And once and for all time spare me the [bleep] St. Crispin’s Day speech you’ll deliver ten minutes before saying you have to go home to pay your bills and put your kids to bed so once more unto the breach, all you other [bleep] people. If just one more person Baby-Boomer-splains to me how they used to be idealistic and then they joined the real world I will lose it, I swear to God.

Stop WAITING. For God’s sake, stop being disappointed when no one comes. Stop hating everybody else for being stupid and trivial and obsessed, stop hating the technology at your disposal, stop hating the world you live in for not being the world you want to live in, and stop being so [bleep] willing to let yourself off the hook.

Work HARDER. Get better. Get up.

Nobody’s coming to save American journalism. Some observers have finally figured that out. And we’ve seen that right here in Greensboro, where billionaire Warren Buffett, the News & Record’s new(-ish) owner who has repeatedly professed his love for newspapers, has made it abundantly clear that he has no use for newspaper people. When the Batten family decided to get their money out of the news bidness and put the N&R and the Landmark chain’s other papers up for sale, Buffett was seen as a savior. Not so much, it has turned out.

At the front lines of journalism, reporters have to report. What’s  your best story? Give THAT to your editor, then, and forget the craven or just plain silly assignments that come down from the publisher and the executive editor and the managing editor. Your bosses might have a nose for real news, but my observation of American journalism leads me to think the odds are very much against it anymore. So, you with the laptop, you with the camera, you with the microphone, you with the blog: You’re it. You are all there is. Go get better, go do better. Because it’s you or nobody.

 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 5:59 pm

The Senate torture report

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. (You can download it here.) Here are five things you need to know as you read it.

1) “We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” — Gen. Barry McCaffrey, U.S. Army (ret.), April 20, 2009

2) “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” — Gen. Antonio Taguba, U.S. Army (ret.), June 18, 2008

3) The “report” being released today is merely a heavily redacted, 600-page executive summary. The full report runs to about 6,000 pages.

4) In the words of The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin, “Many of the same news organizations you are trusting today to accurately inform you about the torture report were either naive or knowing dupes in a CIA misinformation campaign orchestrated by top CIA officials, that included leaks of information that was amazingly enough both classified and inaccurate at the same time.” So you’ll want to be very, very cautious about accepting any news report that seeks to minimize or defend the torture program.

 5) Some additional background from Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept:

One of the worst myths official Washington and its establishment media have told itself about the torture debate is that the controversy is limited to three cases of waterboarding at Guantánamo and a handful of bad Republican actors. In fact, a wide array of torture techniques were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. Government and then systematically employed in lawless US prisons around the world – at Bagram (includingduring the Obama presidency), CIA black sites, even to US citizens on US soil. So systematic was the torture regime that a 2008 Senate reportconcluded that the criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib were the direct result of the torture mentality imposed by official Washington.

American torture was not confined to a handful of aberrational cases or techniques, nor was it the work of rogue CIA agents. It was an officially sanctioned, worldwide regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress. It was motivated by far more than interrogation. The evidence for all of this is conclusive and overwhelming. And the American media bears much of the blame, as they refused for years even to use the word “torture” to describe any of this (even as they called these same techniques “torture” when used by American adversaries), a shameful and cowardly abdication that continues literally to this day in many of the most influential outlets.

I expect that even the edited, redacted document we now have will confirm a lot of ugly things we already knew and tell us about even more ugly things we hadn’t known. But the truth needs to be made public so that we at least will know what the U.S. government has done in our name, whether or not the individuals responsible are ever brought to justice.

I understand that many Americans had, and have today, no problem with our torturing people. That doesn’t make it any more effective. And it doesn’t make it any more right.

I’ve been raising questions and raising hell about this issue for more than a decade, ever since the possibility that we were torturing first reared its ugly head months before the news broke about Abu Ghraib. And while there are a lot of issues with many shades of gray, this one, to me, is black and white. Despite quite a bit of criticism here and elsewhere online, I’ve not lost a minute’s sleep on this position, because whatever else happens, I don’t ever have to worry about my kids or grandkids asking me, “Why are people calling you a good German?”

 

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