Too Bad for the Black People of Ferguson that their Police don’t have the same Mindset as Inspector Simon Kefas in Jo Nesbø’s book, The Son

Michael Brown, an unarmed eighteen-year-old black man, was shot six times and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. Witnesses report that Michael Brown was surrendering at the time he was shot in the head at point-blank range. Ten days later 25-year-old Kajieme Powell, another black man, was shot nine times and killed by St. Louis Police officers after he had stolen two cans of energy drinks and some muffins from a convenience store.

This is a passage from Jo Nesbø’s latest novel, The Son. It’s a conversation between Inspector Simon Kefas and his nephew Mats.

Simon and Mats went out into the hallway and the boy squealed with delight when he saw the black-and-white police cap which his uncle took down from the wardrobe shelf. But he grew silent and reverent when Simon placed the cap on his head. They stood in front of the mirror. The boy pointed to the reflection of his uncle and made shooting noises.

“Who are you shooting at?” his uncle asked him.

“Villains,” the boy spluttered. “Bang! Bang!”

“Let’s call it target practice,” Simon said. “Even the police can’t shoot villains without permission.”

“Yes, you can! Bang! Bang!”

“If we do that, Mats, we go to jail.”

“We do?” the boy stopped and gave his uncle a baffled look. “Why? We’re the police.”

“Because if we shoot someone we could otherwise have arrested that makes us the bad guys.”

“But… when we’ve caught them, then we can shoot them, can’t we?”

Simon laughed, “No. The it’s up to the judge to decide how long they’ll go to prison.”

“I thought you decided that Uncle Simon.”

Simon could see the disappointment in the boy’s eyes. “Let  me tell you something, Mats. I’m glad I don’t have to decide that. I’m glad that all I have to do is catch criminals. Because that’s the fun part of the job.”

Here’s a quiz in the form of a Jack Ohman comic I read in today’s paper:

Ohman Police Mindset Do I need to tell you the answer?

Amanda Knox must never again see the inside of an Italian prison.

If the Italian Court of Cassation (i.e. Supreme Court) upholds the latest conviction of Amanda Knox for the 2007 murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, Italy must decide whether to request her extradition. If the request is made, it should be rejected by the United States.

The botched investigation of the case resulted in a questionable conviction of both Knox and her then Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. No DNA or other physical evidence was found at the bloody murder scene to link either Knox or her boyfriend to the murder. Putative bloody footprints attributed to both Knox and Sollecito turn out not to be bloody at all. The prosecution claimed that Kercher’s DNA was on a kitchen knife found at Sollecito’s place but court appointed independent forensics experts challenged this evidence as being unreliable, as was the finding that Sollecito’s DNA was on a rusted bra clasp of Kercher’s discovered by police six weeks after the murder.

Other elements of the case are more troubling. The pair’s protestations of innocence were not buttressed, for example, by what many might consider inappropriate behavior in the immediate aftermath of the murder, such as public smooching and Knox performing cartwheels at the police station. More damning were the various accounts they provided police of their whereabouts during the crucial hours when Kercher was murdered, their recollections likely clouded by being in a pot-induced fog at the time and by a long and relentless police interrogation.

The fact remains that the evidence of the involvement of Knox and Sollecito in Kercher’s murder is thin, to say the least, whilst that for a small-time drug dealer from the Ivory Coast, Rudy Guede, is overwhelming. His DNA, for example, was found all over the crime scene including on the victim. Guede has been convicted for his role but prosecutors continue to insist that their original suspects, Knox and Sollecito, were Gudde’s accomplices. The original motive was said to have been a putative sex orgy. When that theory was widely ridiculed, prosecutors suggested an argument over a dirty toilet may have been the trigger. Really, a dirty toilet? And prosecutors have not been shy about suggesting yet other motives.

It’s understandable that the police initially set their sights on Knox and Sollecito in light of the pair’s struggles with their alibis and Knox’s perplexingly insouciant behavior at the police station. What is much harder to understand once Guede’s strong connection to the murder was discovered, is the obsession on the part of police and prosecutors to continue to link Knox and Sollecito to it, lack of evidence notwithstanding.

And this reluctance on the part of police and prosecutors to admit error in their initial theory of the crime and focus on a particular suspect even after new evidence reveals a more plausible suspect and motive, is not peculiar to Italy, unfortunately, as anyone who happened to catch the January 31 edition of Dateline NBC can attest.

It recounted the story of David Camm, a former Indiana state trooper, accused of the 2000 shooting murder of his wife and two young children, whose bodies he found in the garage of his home after he had returned from a basketball game. His wife was on the floor of the garage, while his children were in a nearby SUV.

For reasons I won’t go into, Camm himself quickly became the prime suspect, despite a stunning lack of evidence and the fact that he had an alibi (playing in a basketball game with some friends). Only the tireless efforts of his uncle and a smart team of lawyers eventually resulted in his exoneration, after three trials and thirteen years of hell.

What struck me, however, was the similarity to the Knox case in the single-minded, boneheaded and stubbornly incompetent pursuit of Camm as the perpetrator by the police and three successive prosecutors in Indiana against all logic and, more importantly, the evidence.

The Amanda Knox case may not be quite as much of a slam-dunk as Camm’s disgraceful persecution, but it is difficult for me to believe that anyone other than Guede was involved in Kercher’s brutal murder. The fact is that the physical evidence links him to the murder scene and the motive, that he tried to rape her, is logical and straightforward.

Guede’s original 30-year sentence was reduced on appeal to 16 years. Knox faces a term of imprisonment of 28 years for a conviction that seems to have more to do with the fragile egos and prejudices of the police and prosecutors in Italy than with the evidence. It would be a travesty of justice to allow such an outcome.

If the Italian Supreme Court upholds Knox and Sollecito’s most recent convictions, I hope the Italians have the sense not to press for her extradition. But if they do the US should refuse to extradite her, treaty be damned.

Aurora Colorado Mass Murder at Batman Movie will have No Effect on Gun Control because of People like George Will

I don’t usually watch the Sunday morning political talk shows because I can’t stand all the cross-talk when there isn’t somebody funny like Bill Maher to interrupt them with a good joke. (Needless to say, I am a huge fan of Real Time.) But, this morning I watched the whole hour of This Week with George Stephanopoulos about “The Tragedy in Colorado” that unfortunately includes George Will as a regluar roundtable guest.

George Will, like every “good” conservative following the script, argues throughout the show that there’s no reason to push for stricter gun control laws because James Holmes, although very smart, was crazy, so there are no laws that could have prevented him from doing what he did.

Jennifer Rubin, when she could get some words in between others and “he who must be treated with great deference” a.k.a. George Will, was attempting to make a connection between gun laws and mental health, but could never quite tie it all together by suggesting that some sort of psychological screenings for buyers of guns might be a good step in keeping guns out of the hands of psychopaths. (If you’ve read The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, you know there are some tests that are pretty accurate in identifying them).

There are millions and millioins of conservatives that adore George Will and think like George Will, and it’s because of them that absolutely nothing about gun laws in this country will change because of the mass murder committed in Colorado by a psychopath that was able to legally purchase several handguns and an assault rifle that he easily equipped with a hundred-round ammo clip.

To them, it’s the same as it ever was: “He was crazy! There’s nothing we can do to stop it, so why try?” Yes, why try to stop people from legally purchasing guns designed for the sole purpose of killing othe people in the most efficient ways? Having millions of assault rifles scattered throughout America so that we can all kill each other isn’t a big deal is it? No… Let’s make more of them! Let’s arm all Americans with assault rifles and hundred-round clips so that at the next major movie premiere we can have a good old-fashioned American shootout. Just think how of many more people could be killed if everyone in attendance had assault rifles strapped over their shoulders and semi-automatic pistols holstered at their sides. The more Jokers that can get guns, the better.

Chaos! It’s our destiny, so why try to stop it?

Ask George Will.

Concealed-Carry Combined with Stand-Your-Ground Means Big Trouble

Earlier this year in Bremerton, Washington, an elementary school student was seriously wounded when a gun in her classmate’s backpack discharged. Just two weeks later in Marysville, Washington, a 7-year girl was sitting in the parked family car while her dad and mum were outside the vehicle when she was shot by one of her three younger siblings who had found their father’s gun. She later died. Her father is a police officer for Marysville, Washington. And within days, in Tacoma, Washington, an unsupervised 3-year old boy found his father’s gun in the family car and killed himself with it.

Meanwhile, across the country in Sanford, Florida, an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was shot dead by the now infamous neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman.

The death of Trayvon Martin has, at least, stimulated a debate on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which has been emulated entirely or in part by more than 30 states. However, what’s really needed is for that debate to extend to the whole concept of allowing firearms to be conveyed outside the home without any restrictions.

Four horrible incidents in a matter of a few weeks stand as testimony to the fact that too many Americans do not treat firearms with the care, respect and just plain seriousness they warrant. That fact when combined with the ease with which virtually anyone without a criminal record can purchase a firearm and, in most states, obtain a permit to carry (where a permit is even required) potentially endangers all of us. The “Stand Your Ground” nonsense is the icing on the cake. And if all this wasn’t bad enough, Congress is considering a law that would make it possible for the likes of George Zimmerman to legally take their guns anywhere in the country, even to states with restrictive concealed weapon and carry permit laws.

The Trayvon Martin case has focused, mistakenly in my view, on his race as the reason Zimmerman allegedly followed and then shot him during a struggle. I’m not convinced that racism was the primary culprit, even though there’s little doubt that black youths are more at risk than whites in situations similar to the one Martin encountered.

Yet the rest of us should take no comfort in the thought that our kids or husbands or fathers or brothers are safer from the George Zimmerman’s of the world. Instead, we should ask ourselves what gave Zimmerman the courage (for want of a better word) to follow the six-foot-plus Martin, instead of staying in his vehicle and letting the police do their job? The answer is his handgun and the knowledge that he could use it if he found himself overmatched; and the law or rather the lack of sensible ones that facilitated the confrontation.

Someone like George Zimmerman should never have been allowed outside his home with a firearm, and he should not now be able to legally cite self-defense as his justification for shooting Martin. The fact that he was and can should be a cause of deep concern to all of us. How can any of us feel safe when a confrontation between acquaintances or strangers over something quite trivial, can escalate into a shooting which can then be justified on the grounds that the shooter felt his life threatened – even when the threat came from someone who was unarmed.

In Florida shootings where self-defense was used as the justifications have spiked. The fact is there was a time when we could only imagine having our head blown off if we were dumb enough to break into someone’s home. Now it can happen in a public place if we exchange harsh words with someone who gets pissed off enough and has his gun with him. In addition to divisions between rich and poor and left and right, we have a new one developing between the armed and the unarmed. And which one do you think has the power?

It’s an issue that needs a healthy public debate and far more research on the effect of concealed weapon and Stand Your Ground laws. So far the NRA have had it all their own way in pushing the expansion of gun rights beyond what is sane and prudent because ordinary Americans have let them. It’s high time to take another look.

One of the more specious arguments advanced by the gun lobby is that the individual right to own a firearm is our protection against governmental tyranny. But tyranny comes in many forms. Just ask the parents of Trayvon Martin.

Totem Pole Raised in Honor of Slain Woodcarver John T. Williams

John T. Williams, a seventh-generation woodcarver from the Ditidaht tribe, was murdered by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk on August 30, 2010.

John T Williams

photo by David Entrikin

Williams was fifty years old, an alcoholic, deaf in one ear, and was walking at Boren and Howell carrying a piece of wood and his three-inch carving blade. Birk observed Williams crossing the street holding the knife, so he got out of his patrol car and commanded him to drop the knife. Williams didn’t drop the knife, so Birk drew his weapon and shot him four times. Williams died at the scene.

An internal investigation concluded that the police shooting was unjustified, but no charges were filed aganst Birk. He did resign from the force.

tribe member gives instructions for raising the pole

Tribe member in yellow shirt gives instructions for raising the pole.

 

There was a totem pole raised in his honor by his family near the trees on the Broad Street Green at Seattle Center today. The pole was carved by his family and friends and raised into position by dozens of people pulling on five ropes tied around the top of the pole.

Tribe member yells as the totem pole is raised into position.

Tribe member yells as the totem pole is raised into position.

 

The family says the pole is a symbol of calm and healing.

RIP JTW

George W. Bush Cancels Trip to Switzerland for Fear of Arrest for Torture

George W. Bush’s plans to speak in Switzerland at a Keren Hayesod-UIA charity event on February 12th were abruptly cancelled. He was going there to speak about freedom and his time as president.

However, since he has admitted to authorizing torture, human rights groups around the world have organized and filed petitions for his arrest. The Miami Herald reports:

The New York based Center for Constitutional Rights said Saturday that European human rights groups had compiled a 2,500-page Convention Against Torture complaint against Bush, seeking to trigger it once he set foot onto Swiss soil.

CCR, a law firm led by New York civil rights lawyer Michael Ratner, has for years filed a series of mixed-result lawsuits against Bush administration policies, alleging civil liberties and human rights abuses in its detention, rendition and warrantless wiretapping policies.

“The message from civil society is clear,” it said in a statement. “If you’re a torturer, be careful in your travel plans. It’s a slow process for accountability, but we keep going.”

And Yahoo! reports:

The rights group World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) this week called on Swiss authorities to open an investigation into Bush as former commander-in-chief of US forces if he sets foot on Swiss soil.

The Geneva-based OMCT on Thursday released a letter it sent to Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey to underline Switzerland’s obligations under domestic law and the UN Convention Against Torture.

It said that “all information suggests” that Bush “authorised, knew and acquiesced into the practices that constitute the crime of torture.”

The United States government will never hold Bush accountable for his crimes, but maybe if he’s not careful, a country with respect for international laws against torture will arrest him and hold him accountable.

Krugman on the Need to Investigate Bush

Today’s column by Paul Krugman exactly mirrors my thoughts about how government officials must be held accountable for their wrongdoings in order to deter their successors from doing the same things.  Without checks on our elected officials, especially in the Executive Branch, we cannot preserve our democracy.

From the column:

By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?

Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?

One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn’t there be some penalty for the Bush administration’s politicization of every aspect of government?

During the Reagan years, the Iran-contra conspirators violated the Constitution in the name of national security. But the first President Bush pardoned the major malefactors, and when the White House finally changed hands the political and media establishment gave Bill Clinton the same advice it’s giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off — which isn’t too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators.

Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.

And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.

I’d planned on writing some more of my own thoughts about this, but I ended up in an email exchange with  N.J. Barnes (another harikari editor) about it, so I’m just going to post the emails and call it an open forum. 

N.J. Barnes:  I’d love to see an investigation but it has to avoid any suggestion of partisanship. Independent commission(s) empowered to examine the whole issue of torture decisions and illegal wiretapping and all the rest (and recommend whether laws were actually broken) should be established headed by a respected retired federal judge.

I should add that we just had an example of how difficult it is to bring charges. The Bush Justice Dept hack who blatantly lied to Congress under oath by saying he didn’t let ideology or politics influence his hiring practices. Now the Justice IG has said he clearly did. Yet federal prosecutors refrain from prosecuting for reasons that are not clear to me.  When it’s that blatant and they won’t do anything, what chance is there on issues where the line between law-breaking and executive prerogatives is blurred?

Brad:  They are untouchables. 
 
George Washington, in his farewell address, warned about these types of assholes and the damage they would do to our democracy.
 
Judges have already ruled that the wiretaps were illegal and that members of our military and/or intelligence agencies did in fact TORTURE people.  Again, laws broken both national and international.
 
perhaps we must wait for international courts to step in.
 
not likely

N.J. Barnes:  With all due respect, the courts have mostly deferred to the Bush administration on this issue and so has Congress, to its everlasting shame. And this is not an issue that gets most Americans excited either. Most of them would say they’d rather be safe than free of government intrusion. That’s even worse news.

Brad:  It all started with the politicization of the Justice Department.  Politicizing it is against the law.  That’s where this all began, and that is where the investigations, if there are to be any, must begin. 
 
Obama appointed Dawn Johnsen as head of the Office of Legal Counsel, and she has been a consistent critic of Bush’s Justice Department and a staunch defender of The Constitution.  After she’s taken over and had some time to review what her predecessors had been doing, she may find things that Obama cannot ignore.  And lets remember, he too has been a harsh critic and is a constitutional lawyer.  Maybe, just maybe… some of this will see the light of day.
 
As for checks and balances, they are built in to our system of government.  The problem falls mainly on Congress  – a Republican Congress that was in control for six of the worst eight years our country has ever seen.  They were the initial problem.  They followed King George’s orders and never “checked” him even though some of them KNEW he was breaking laws and had grabbed too much power.    That power grab started with Cheney and his remaking of the VP office that had executive control over the Justice Dept (no longer independent) through his ideological appointments.
 
R’s in Congress kept their mouths shut for fear of political reprisal:  They would be taken off committees, lose funding for state projects, and lose of campaign funds, etc. 
 
All in all it was a despicable period in our nation’s history that nobody in Congress can be proud of. 
 
I salute those who did open their mouths once and while.  Too bad their voices weren’t heard by a public cowed into fearing for their lives by the false rhetoric of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/et. al. and echoed by a compliant press corps.

N.J. Barnes:  All that may be true but in the end it comes to the same thing: when the people who are supposed to do the people’s business whether its lawyers in the Justice Dept or senators in the US Congress fail in their duty to protect and uphold the Constitution  by fettering a rogue, ideology and power-driven executive branch, there is little or no accountability. 
 
It will all be defended as “we did what we thought was right to defend the American people from attack after 9/11″ and that misleading and deceptive phrase will protect them from legal sanction. The best we can hope for is that they will be shamed by independently constituted examinations of what occurred – although I doubt even that is possible.
 
I totally agree that the wrong doing spread across every facet of government, not least in environmental policy.
 
Let’s hope we can avoid another nightmare like this one.

Hey you other harikari editors, join in the discussion!

It’s open to readers too.  Leave some comments… let us know you are out there.

Turns out the US does Torture

The Washington Post has confirmed that the United States has used torture at Guantanamo Bay. 

From the Reuters article:

The Pentagon official overseeing the tribunals for Guantanamo Bay detainees has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

“We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani,” Susan Crawford said in an interview with the newspaper. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

I can only hope that once Obama gets into office he will look into the activities and punish all who were involved, up to and including George W. Bush.

But, we will need to hold Obama accountable for investigating the former administration.  I am concerned about the possibility that he will attempt to downplay the crimes of the past administration.

From his recent TV interview, Think Progress reports:

Q: The most popular question on your own website is related to this. On change.gov it comes from Bob Fertik of New York City and he asks, ‘Will you appoint a special prosecutor ideally Patrick Fitzgerald to independently investigate the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.’

OBAMA:We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. … My orientation is going to be moving foward.

As a nation, we need to watch this closely over the next year and let our representatives in Congress know how we feel about the United States committing War Crimes.

We Need Not Just One, But TWO Modern Day “Pecora” Commissions

Yesterday I read an excellent opinion piece by Ron Chernow in The New York Times about the 1933 Senate Banking and Currency Committee hearings.  The column got me thinking not only about the lack of accountability on Wall Street, but also about the lack of accountability in the Executive Branch of our government. 

The Chief Counsel to the 1933 Senate Banking and Currency Committee hearings was a man named Ferdinand Pecora.  Throughout the extensive hearing process, he exposed the 1920′s Titans of Wall Street as crooks and liars and set the stage for many banking and securities reforms that were put in place by the Roosevelt Administration to protect our investments. 
 
As I read through the litany of offenses outlined in the article, it seemed to me that everything accomplished by Pecora and the Roosevelt Administration has been unraveled over the past twenty to thirty years, and the very same crooked practices of the twenties were repeated in our current decade. 

Hearings like the ones Pecora held over seventy years ago would most likely expose Wall Street’s current Titans as reincarnations of their greedy, lying forbearers. 
 
Everybody, and I mean Republicans and Democrats and everyone in-between, gets riled up about the subprime lending debacle that led to the 2008 stock market crash.  When we see the results of the rampant corruption and fraud on our personal investment statements, we get angry – and most of us get monthly or quarterly statements that continue to fuel our rage.
 
That said, I think our economy is basically sound and that with proper foresight and guidance from the Obama administration, we will see a strong recovery, but it may take a few years, so it’s going to be a while before we start feeling good about our investments.
 
In his NYT column, Chernow asks “where is our Pecora for today?”  Is anyone going to hold the swindlers accountable?  Most people would welcome a man like Pecora to investigate the players in today’s financial system.  Sure, they’d like to identify the culprits and hold them accountable for their theft, but there are plenty more Bush-Era corruptions that are worthy of investigation.

What about all the illegal and despicable practices that have been carried out by our intelligence agencies and covered up by our Justice Department?  We not only need a “Pecora Commission” to investigate Wall Street, we need a “Pecora Commission” to investigate the operations and policies of our Intelligence, Security, and Justice departments. 
 
Has anyone in the Bush Administration ever had to answer to anyone under oath?  I think not.  If they did and they had to answer to someone with Pecora’s intellect and tenacity, they would be exposed as devious crooks with no regard for the laws they swore to uphold, and everyone would be as outraged as I am. 

I guess I’ll have to learn to chill out though, because during the coming era of post-partisanship, such hearings are just not going to happen.  One frame from the latest This Modern World sums it up pretty well:

Click on the picture to read Sparky’s reply to this newly non-partisan Republican…