Showing posts with label Civil Rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Civil Rights. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Border Searches, Privacy and Profiling

I've written before on seeming or actual violations of civil liberties under the Obama Administration. For the most part it's fair to say that progressives didn't care too much about such violations. They decided that they had bigger fish to fry. And with a few honorably consistent exceptions the conservatives who criticized the Obama Administration's civil liberties record were quiet as church mice when it came to local police violations of the civil/constitutional rights of black American citizens. So conservative critiques about the Obama Administration's hostility to freedom of the press or separation of powers or due process generally fell on deaf ears. Many conservatives were themselves oft indifferent to or opposed to expansive interpretations of civil liberties (that is after all why they were conservatives in the first place). Others were just using civil liberties as a convenient club with which to bludgeon President Obama. They would drop this club just as soon as a conservative President took office. There are two recent incidents that occurred under President Trump that are receiving some attention. They both occurred at the border. I'm no lawyer. It is my understanding however that the authorities have been given more leeway than normal to conduct questioning and searches at or near the border. This may especially be the case where the object of official interest is not an American citizen who has never been to the United States before. So far there is no right for such a person to travel to the United States. But in both of these recent cases the object of the additional and to my mind disturbing state actions was an American citizen returning home. Unfortunately the two citizens did not have the right skin tone, correct European styled name or especially, religion. And this could be what triggered the additional state scrutiny, regardless of their citizenship. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Religious Accommodation in a Diverse Society: Is It Still Possible?

We've previously discussed religious accommodations in employment and education. It's hard to find agreement on these issues. What is important or sacred to one person may be minor, downright stupid or immoral to someone else. Even people who have otherwise supported broad religious accommodations have also recognized the danger that unlimited religious exemptions poses to many societal mores or laws. Religious freedom can't be a "I don't have to do anything you say" card. I am not religious though I mostly respect those who are. I don't think that we can make a general rule about when religious accommodations should be made. There are just too many different religions and dissimilar ways of experiencing the world. We must examine situations case by case. Most of us will probably agree that we shouldn't force people to violate their strongly held moral or religious beliefs absent an equally pressing moral claim. We can say that we won't allow religious claims to override actual physical harm to another human (but in the case of circumcision of infant boys we do just that while holding to that belief to outlaw FGM). We either don't permit or strongly discourage people of the Hindu faith from burning offerings and throwing them in the local river. The idea of "physical harm" is of course subject to our subjective ideas about damage. While I grudgingly admit that the relevant or applicable state laws might require it, my personal bias is that I am queasy at forcing an objecting photographer, painter or baker to produce goods or services for a gay wedding. I'm skeptical that the alleged harm outweighs the individual's right to expression. But religious accommodation is available to people of all faiths. Religious accommodation is not just something used by "backwards" conservative Christians to "mess with" liberals and gays. Religious accommodation is about more than gays and birth control. Some Orthodox Jews in NYC have worked it out so that some public pools are separated by gender at certain times of the day. I have a problem with this arrangement because everyone is paying taxes for this. Other Orthodox Jewish men have refused to sit next to women on airplanes. I have no sympathy for their claim. If they want to move they should do so but the woman shouldn't move nor should the plane be delayed. An Orthodox Jewish woman obtained a job offer as a 24/7 oncall data manager but only then informed her putative employer, the Dallas County Sheriff's office, that she would need to leave work before sundown on Friday. Always. Additionally she wouldn't be answering the phone or driving during the sabbath. So if there was an emergency during that time period obviously she would be unavailable. The Sheriff's office withdrew the offer and since this is America the woman sued. I don't think she should get anything because she can't fulfill the job's core requirements. Some Muslims, who are required to pray five times a day, sued their employer because they don't think the employer is making enough of an accommodation to their prayer needs. As the country becomes more diverse these problems will occur more frequently.

I think an employer should try to be reasonable (and that's what the law requires as far as I know) but I also can't have half my staff disappearing for 10-20 minutes or more for three times during the workday, especially if I am in a business where productivity is easily measured and has an immediate impact on profit. Other Muslim taxi drivers have tried refusing to pick up blind people with guard dogs or have refused to allow women to sit next to them. So one person's religious freedom or accommodation is often another person's unfair discrimination or special treatment. I heard about the Charee Stanley vs. ExpressJet case while listening to the radio on my commute home. I thought that it was an example of where things have probably gone too far.
A Muslim flight attendant is suing ExpressJet after it suspended her for refusing to serve passengers alcohol. The lawsuit accuses the airline of “revoking a reasonable religious accommodation and wrongfully suspending her from her employment,” the Council on American-Islam Relations Michigan Chapter said in a release Tuesday.
On Aug. 25, 2015, Charee Stanley was placed on unpaid leave after a colleague complained about her refusal to serve customers alcohol — which she did in deference to her religion. 

Stanley was hired by ExpressJet before converting to Islam, and was later asked to make arrangements for the flight attendant on duty to fulfill alcohol requests. Stanley poured all non-alcoholic beverages. “It was obviously seen as a reasonable accommodation and it was working for dozens of flights — so it was not an accommodation that was burdensome nor restricted people from getting alcohol on the flight,” Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the CAIR-MI, told the Daily News in an interview.

But in August, after Stanley's new partner complained, the airline lifted the accommodation. Stanley was placed on unpaid leave “and on track for eventual termination for her requesting an accommodation of being allowed to not personally serve alcohol rather than abandoning her religious belief and practice,” according to the lawsuit.

It's important to note that the EEOC dismissed Stanley's complaint without deciding if the airline broke the law. Now I don't drink so I would not be impacted by Stanley's refusal to serve alcohol. But just as with the Christian bakers or photographers being forced to provide services to gay weddings, when you serve the public sometimes you end up doing things that don't line up 100% with your religious or moral beliefs. If we're going to play hardball with that baker then we have to do the same with Stanley. If not serving alcohol is of supreme importance to Stanley then the proper next step for her is to find a job that better fits her religion. As a country we can't allow one religion to constantly win workplace accommodations while another religion constantly loses. That's not fair. It adds to bad blood. It seems as if some people suing for religious accommodation are crossing the line between seeking to live according to their religion and making other people live according to their religion. Occasionally serving alcohol is part of the job of being a stewardess flight attendant. It's minor but if you can't do it then you should find something else. You couldn't be a vet or pet groomer and refuse to touch dogs because your religion finds them unclean. Things are starting to get ridiculous in my non-legal opinion when Somali Muslim delivery drivers can refuse to deliver loads which contain alcohol and actually win a $240,000 judgment against their employer. To me it all depends on whether your religious accommodation request involves a critical part of your job. If profoundly devout people or more likely people of certain faiths or sects obtain a reputation for trying to make their workplace bend to their will, there's a non zero chance that some employers will do what they can to not hire certain people, illegal though that is. And that's lose-lose for everyone.

What's your take on these stories?

Has the demand for religious accommodation gone too far?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Illegal Search or Unreasonable Citizen: California Family

Below the break you will see a video of a family declining a vehicle search by some sort of California Agriculture inspector. They are later pulled over by California State Police and arrested. The proximate cause of the arrest was the driver's (Brad Feinman) refusal to accept a ticket or provide identification. Of course once the police broke the vehicle window and hauled the family out, they searched the vehicle anyway. This video was hard to believe. Not because of the escalation of force by police officers. That part was easy to believe, especially the part where the Caucasian-American police officers did not immediately shoot or beat or tase the Caucasian-American citizens. No what I didn't know is that apparently the State of California has taken the power upon itself to search, excuse me, inspect vehicles entering the state. This appears to me to be an end run around the Fourth Amendment. It's being done under the bailiwick of the Agricultural Inspection station but to me it doesn't really matter why it's being done or under what supposed authority it's being done. I think it's wrong and should not be tolerated. What sort of country are we living in if government authorities can just search your vehicle without warrant or probable cause anytime they want to do so. Now there are smarter people than I and people who know the law much better than I who read this blog. I would be interested in knowing what they thought of this. But ultimately it doesn't matter does it. If someone is asserting authority to search your vehicle merely because you're entering the state and/or look suspicious it seems to me that California is giving a huge middle finger to the Fourth Amendment and associated civil liberties. This, among other reasons, is why I think the security apparatus that has grown up around airline travel post 9-11 is so pernicious. There really is no reason why such (VIPER) procedures can't be put into place for travel by train, bus or as we saw here, automobile. 

The idea that the search is "voluntary" because you don't have to enter into California seems to me nonsensical. Why not just get rid of the Fourth Amendment entirely? After all, imagine how much crime the state could deter or prosecute if police officers could enter your house any time they wanted to search it. Would I have done what this man did?  Would you have? I don't like needless confrontation, but I hope that I would have the stones to stand up. But is it my right to endanger a wife and child? I'm positive that a higher level of state violence would have been used against me and mine MUCH earlier in the process. I'm as sure of that as I am that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. So who can say what I would have done. As the song says you have to know when to hold them AND know when to fold them. I think that the citizen decided not to comply with any of the requests because consent at any point would seem to reduce his chances of fighting it later in court. But again I am not a lawyer. Maybe my fears and irritation are unwarranted and these "inspections" are just fine legally and constitutionally. If so then we need to change the laws and the constitution. Anyway, check out the long video below and share your thoughts. You may think that the man is a jerk or a zealot. You may think that he's playing with fire. I don't say no to that. But something is wrong if any state or federal agent is asserting a right to search your car without some sort of probable cause. And it seems to me that's what's happening. The video starts in real time roughly at 1:32.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

NSA bulk metadata collection found unlawful

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that the NSA bulk collection of phone records or metadata was unlawful. It is not authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. You can read the entire 77 page decision for yourself here if you are really into such things. I'm no legal expert but I am quite happy to see that at least somewhere in some part of our government there are some people who still take seriously the idea that the government doesn't automatically have the right to know EVERYTHING about you. Many people have cursed Edward Snowden and called him out of his name but this metadata tracking warrantless program was one of the things he revealed. This is why I think Snowden is and remains a hero and a whistleblower. Now that the legality of warrantless metadata collection has been found wanting, I hope that both the legislators who will be tinkering with the relevant sections of the Patriot Act and the citizens whom they purportedly represent will take some time to cogitate on what kind of world we want to build. Laws that are written in haste and panic as the Patriot Act was can often have some unforeseen and unpleasant consequences. But if we truly believe that a citizen has, absent individualized suspicion of wrong doing, a right to be left alone then we should applaud this ruling. This decision could start to ever so slightly hinder the government's "eye in the sky" as it were from rifling through our every communication and digital thought.  

I don't want the NSA performing the equivalent of "stop-and-frisk" in cyberspace. On the other hand, if we really want the Bill of Rights to be altered or suspended (or at least weakened for certain people or groups) then let's have that debate openly and honestly. But for now, although the court didn't specifically address all of the Constitutional issues inherent in these questions it's good enough for me that the court found that the NSA exceeded statutory limitations. As we've discussed before I remain amazed and a more than a bit peeved that people have been accepting of governmental misconduct and expansion of powers under the Bush and Obama Administrations that would have caused outrage and possibly impeachment under earlier Administrations. As a nation, we've become too trusting of the executive branch and too eager to give it more power and authority. I understand the desire to be safe and keep others safe. But there is no perfect way to do that. And grabbing everyone's email and phone metadata just because isn't allowed. I don't see this as a right-left issue but an issue of civil liberty and privacy. 
The US court of appeals has ruled that the bulk collection of telephone metadata is unlawful, in a landmark decision that clears the way for a full legal challenge against the National Security Agency.
A panel of three federal judges for the second circuit overturned an earlier rulingthat the controversial surveillance practice first revealed to the US public by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 could not be subject to judicial review.
But the judges also waded into the charged and ongoing debate over the reauthorization of a key Patriot Act provision currently before US legislators. That provision, which the appeals court ruled the NSA program surpassed, will expire on 1 June amid gridlock in Washington on what to do about it.
The judges opted not to end the domestic bulk collection while Congress decides its fate, calling judicial inaction “a lesser intrusion” on privacy than at the time the case was initially argued.
“In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape,” the judges ruled.
But they also sent a tacit warning to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who is pushing to re-authorize the provision, known as Section 215, without modification: “There will be time then to address appellants’ constitutional issues.”
“We hold that the text of section 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” concluded their judgement.
"The orders at issue here contain no such limits. The metadata concerning every telephone call made or received in the United States using the services of the recipient service provider are demanded, for an indefinite period extending into the future.  The records demanded are not those of suspects under investigation, or of people or businesses that have contact with such subjects, or of people or businesses that have contact with others who are in contact with the subjects – they extend to every record that exists, and indeed to records that do not yet exist, as they impose a continuing obligation on the recipient of the subpoena to provide such records on an ongoing basis as they are created.  The government can point to no grand jury subpoena that is remotely comparable to the real‐time data collection undertaken under this program."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lansing Michigan Satanic Temple Holiday Display

I am not religious. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am also however a big believer in the right of the individual to make a stand based on his or her sincerely held moral, ethical or religious beliefs. Sometimes, these tenets can conflict. What is right or good is not immediately apparent. In the past few decades though what has been apparent is that some devoutly religious Christian people feel that there is a "war on Christmas" or that they are losing ground in American culture. This has provoked a backlash in which some Christians seek to leverage their majority status to place a Christian imprimatur on government and/or secular functions. The classic examples of this are attempts to make Christianity the official religion of a state or the entire country, Christian prayers at legislative sessions, which the Supreme Court upheld (wrongly imo) and the never ending battles over holiday nativity scenes at government buildings. When challenged over the last, people supportive of such scenes often ask those opposed what's the big deal, advise them to quit being so sensitive and suggest that they have a nice warm steaming cup of STFU. Well.
I am not among those who are outraged by nativity scenes but I definitely sympathize with those who are. And once you open the gates to allowing religious displays on government property, well then you need to understand that it's an all or nothing type of rule. The people in Lansing, Michigan, our capital, are learning that this holiday season as the Satanic Temple (Detroit Chapter) is moving ahead with plans to place its own holiday display on the Capitol lawn. The Satanic display was originally planned in response to a Christian nativity scene but the Christians were apparently lacking in organizational skills and so far have not finalized plans to get their nativity scene in place.

 I guess the Satanists were a bit more motivated. Being in the minority or being the underdog can certainly tend to make someone work a little bit harder. Until the Satanists announced their plans the only Christians who were working seriously on a nativity scene were from out of state.

The group, which describes itself as a collective of “Satanists, secularists and advocates for individual liberty," has received permission to put up a display on the north Capitol lawn from December 21 to 23.

"We would prefer that no religious iconography was displayed on Capitol grounds or on state grounds for that matter," said Jex Blackmore, founder and head of the Detroit chapter. "But if there was going to be a singular voice represented, we felt it was best to add to that representation of diversity here in Michigan."

John Truscott, a member of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, confirmed that The Satanic Temple has been granted approval for the temporary outdoor display.

"We are restricted by the Constitution and bound by the Constitution to recognize their First Amendment rights," said Truscott. "We don’t have the ability to reject them if they meet the guidelines of the Capitol."

But on a personal level, Truscott said he thinks it is "absolutely disgusting to hijack a Christian holiday," and he expressed hope that the public will "just completely ignore these negative forces."

Blackmore said that Satanists do not worship Satan as some might think but rather seek to separate superstition from religious beliefs and advocate individual liberty, rationalism and human knowledge. She said that is the reason that their display will be a "snaketivity" scene featuring a snake granting a book of knowledge. Blackmore's point is that the greatest gift is knowledge. People being who they are, once the news got out that the Satanists, of all people, would be placing a display on Capitol grounds, every politician and their mama ran to the nearest microphone to denounce the Satanists as evil, talk about how much they loved Jesus, and promised to ensure that a Christian nativity scene actually was erected. This last didn't seem to bother Blackmore as she said that the snaketivity scene would actually work better in conjunction with Christian iconography. But she did say that "If our Legislature finds it morally incomprehensible to respect the diversity of differences among Michigan citizens, then perhaps they are much better served as members of the clergy rather than representatives of the people." I can't disagree with that in this context. I certainly understand how some devout Christians might find the display of Satanic iconography offensive but just about every religion by definition has a bone to pick with someone else's religious claims. It's baked into the cake. People can try to paper this over by saying well, as long as we're all Christian we should have no issues, or as long as we're all followers of Abrahamic religions we're all good or as long as you're not an atheist I have no issues with you but the bloody history of inter and intra-religious conflict shows otherwise. The fact that a Christian finds Satanism offensive is irrelevant to whether a Satanist should have the same rights as anyone else to put up displays on public property. I would prefer no religious displays on public property but if we're going to allow it, we have to allow it for everyone. And the same logic applies to Christians who want to use religious beliefs to avoid or ignore certain secular laws. They should remember that everyone else also will get that same right. 

What do you think?
Does Blackmore have a point?
You're Queen or King for the Winter. Do you allow this Satanic holiday display?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

June 2014 Book Of The Month

It looks like this book could be an important companion piece to the book We will Shoot Back, which we earlier discussed. The author, Charles Cobb, is a former SNCC member and on the ground activist who actually participated in the human rights struggles of the sixties and had to deal with the reactionary threats and violence directed at Black people or other supporters who dared to suggest that segregation was wrong, black people were human and that blacks could vote. Cobb was there as were many other people. It is of course instructive to realize as many of the great names have died or lost their way struggling against personal demons, that nothing that the "leaders" accomplished, not one single thing, could have been done without the active support of many more people, of whom Cobb is one. Cobb, who is a journalist, is interested in showing the importance of armed self-defense in helping midwife real American democracy. His argument is that guns made the civil rights movement possible. He is dissatisfied with the idea that Rosa sat down, Martin stood up and white racists saw the light. It is a great frustration of mine that guns and gun culture have become in the American imagination almost exclusively the provenance of right-wing, reactionary and occasionally down right racist politicians, groups or individuals. People constantly forget that a key portion of Southern and for that matter Northern white supremacy was that black people did not, could not and would not defend themselves. And in this culture letting everyone believe that they could hurt you with impunity was not necessarily the best idea. In fact it was a stupid idea. It tended to attract bullies. Cobb describes how black WW2 vets were important in helping to relieve and reverse years of deliberately inculcated fear. Once you've seen that men whom you were told were superior to you can die just like you can, it tends to change your attitude about things.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Virginia Walmart: Those Don't Look Like Your Kids

The other day I stopped in my local grocery store to pick up some items. I saw a black man and white woman couple. They had a white girl and a younger black (mixed) boy tagging along with them. Obviously the black man was a pimp and the white woman was his prostitute. The two kids were either criminals in training or had been kidnapped for some other unspeakably nefarious reasons. So I went to the store manager and pointed these miscreants out. The manager called the police. The police bopped the two criminals on the head with their nightsticks and threw them in the squad car. So I had done my good deed for the day. But sometimes we are called to do more. When I turned into the bread aisle I saw a white man with two young black girls. So he HAD to be a pedophile. Why else would they be calling him Daddy and asking for donuts. I couldn't let this stuff go down. Not on MY watch. So I tackled him and this time called the police myself.
And this sicko was hauled away just like the couple before him. I felt good about myself. My spidey sense was on the job, amplified by my bigotry, resentment and paranoia. What's that you say, that doesn't sound like me? Well you're right it doesn't. And it wasn't. Nevertheless there are some people in this country who still think exactly like that. And they aren't exactly shy about getting officials with guns and authority to follow up on their suspicions. Witness Virginia:

              DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

A Virginia couple was shocked to find a police officer in front of their home when they returned from running errands, but they were even more surprised by the reason for the cop's visit-- to question whether or not they were in fact their children's parents.
Joseph, a white man who didn't want his last name revealed, and his black wife Keana told Fox5DC that they were outraged after the policeman told them a security guard at their local Walmart had suspected Joseph of kidnapping his three young daughters."He asks us very sincerely, ‘Hey, I was sent here by Walmart security. I just need to make sure that the children that you have are your own,’” Joseph said.
"I was dumbfounded," Keana said. "I sat there for a minute and I thought, ‘Did he just ask us if these were our kids knowing what we went through to have our children?’The couple, who have been married for 10 years, have a four-year-old daughter and two-year-old twin girls. Joseph had taken the girls to a Walmart near their Prince William County home to cash a check and left after spending a short time in the parking lot. After speaking with the officer, they called the store demanding an explanation...
Now far be it from me to suggest that citizens not be vigilant about protecting children from pedophiles, kidnappers or other adults who would do them harm. But in order to have a suspicion and act on it I think both citizens and law enforcement ought to have a little more to go on besides the fact that two people or a group of people out and about in society are of apparently different races. What happened in Virginia, although it thankfully did not rise to the level of official police violence or arrest, was wrong. It was a hunch based on stereotypes about the way the world works. Although most people still date or marry within their race, increasing numbers do not. So it's obviously incorrect to assume that any adult accompanied by a child of a different race is some sort of deviant. 

I don't know legally what exactly rises to probable cause or reasonable suspicion. I can say that if that had been me purely on principle I probably wouldn't have answered any questions from the police. This may have escalated to my disadvantage of course but I feel pretty strongly about avoiding unnecessary contact with the police or for that matter other government agencies. The ironic thing is that in the almost Kafkaesque system we've built around "protection of children", the parents may have done the right thing by speaking to the police because sometimes the police appear to be more bound by rules and protocol than child protection services. Child protection services may well have just stormed the house and removed the children first and asked questions later. So maybe all's well that ends well.

Still the same racial assumptions that started in someone's brain about seeing a white man with black (biracial) children are the exact same beliefs that I listed in the first paragraph that can rebound to people's disadvantage in several ways. Is that white man driving in the inner city at night coming home from work or is he looking to buy crack? Is that black youth walking in a nice neighborhood the son of a successful black attorney or is he a thug casing the area? Is that white woman in a SUV with a bunch of black teens a kidnap victim about to be raped or she is a suburban mom driving her son and some of his baseball team home from the game? Is that black young woman walking down the street trying to solicit sex or is she a teacher walking home late from student-teacher conferences?

We all definitely have biases and prejudices. There's no denying that. But we should try our best to rise above them. And before we stick our nose in someone else's business we ought to have a greater justification for interference than "well you and them just didn't look right together". I don't think bigotry is probable cause. It's ironic that it was a Virginia court case featuring a black woman and white man that the Supreme Court used to overturn anti-miscegenation laws.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

NYPD officers abuse teen-caught on audio

It is often instructive to look back at the history of white supremacy in this country and see how non-whites had to deal with openly racist whites who had no problem being violent. When we look at the pictures or video of peaceful civil rights protesters having dogs set on them or being beaten with tire irons or having things thrown at them it is hard, in 2012 not to at least occasionally question how people could allow that to happen or why didn't more people stand up and fight back or so on. Those are painful questions to be sure. At any given point in time most people are just trying to survive. By definition, most people are not heroes. Cemeteries are full of would be heroes. People did what they had to do to survive. There is no shame in that.

But although those days are thankfully gone, there are unfortunately quite a number of people who would have fit right in working for Bull Connor or Ross Barnett. Evidently many of these people are NYPD police officers. We've written before on the stop-and-frisk program that Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have instituted that is primarily aimed at Black and Hispanic men, especially young men or boys. This program doesn't catch many people carrying either drugs or guns but it does put a lot of fear, anger and rage in many New York Black and Hispanic citizens. Unfortunately until very recently this has not received any attention in the mainstream press and what attention it has received has been cautiously positive or only mildly critical. Generally speaking the people that write or edit for the New York Times or the New Yorker or the Wall Street Journal or the American Enterprise Institute are not the people being stopped and frisked so they tend not to have the mad rush of killing rage I had when I saw the below video. This is a racial quota which doesn't seem to excite their delicate constitutional sensitivities.

One thing that it is really important to understand is that the stop-and-frisk program, which has been expanded to include public housing and some private rentals as well is NOT a program in which someone does something suspicious and only THEN receives police attention NOR it is a program in which Officer Friendly and Dudley DoRight stop you and politely ask you a few questions before apologizing and sending you on your way after some sports discussions.


It is as the video shows, a program in which young men of color are criminalized just for existing. It is a program in which showing signs of manhood and citizenship like demanding to know why you were stopped, asking for badge numbers, looking in someone's eyes or refusing to answer questions causes insane and profane racist rage, insults to your family, threats of arrests or beating, and occasional actual beating. This is the kind of stuff that was supposed to have gone out of style in 1960s Mississippi but as we can see it is thriving in 2012 NYC, under a supposedly enlightened Mayor, a relatively liberal Governor and a President that claims to understand civil liberties.

This is why come what may, with no offence intended to anyone who is a police officer, or is related to or married to a police officer, I really really don't like cops. Period. Never have and never will. Fortunately I have never had an experience to the extent of the young man in the video but I've had a few run-ins in my time. This is also why I do not like NYC and have little desire to visit, though I have friends and family there. Imagine if Alvin was your son, brother, cousin or husband. What does that sort of physical and verbal abuse from so-called authority figures do to racial relations? This is why it is ridiculous to claim, as some do, that affirmative action is harming racial relations. No, the NYPD is harming racial relations!  

The NYPD has a serious problem and it needs to be fixed yesterday. I simply do not get why Black and Hispanic New Yorkers have not gone after Bloomberg the same way they went after Giuliani. Malcolm X once joked that anywhere south of Canada is Mississippi and this video shows the truth of that joke. Honestly if I were in that situation I would definitely be in fear of my life and have to act accordingly. I'd rather be judged by a jury than those two beasts. Listen to full audio of Alvin's stop here, courtesy of The Nation.


1) Ever been in a similar situation with police?

2) How can we fix the police department?

3) Is the teen a hero?

4) Should the police officers be fired?

5) Where are the Feds?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Meet the New Boss: Obama and Domestic Spying

I'm your new boss. I'm SO happy to see you!!!
One of the most intriguing things about human nature is how we respond to surface changes while the substantive policy remains the same. In short, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

In New York City for example former Mayor Rudy Giuliani made no pretense of having much use for the black community or so-called black leaders. Under his leadership the NYPD was unleashed to harass and search black and Hispanic citizens, primarily men or boys, who could literally just be walking down the street minding their own business. Occasionally this aggressive attitude would lead to brutal or even deadly uses of force on citizens. People were outraged. They marched, protested and called the snarling churlish lisping Giuliani all sorts of nasty names.

Enter Mayor Bloomberg. Bloomberg is a "feel your pain" kind of guy. He's (usually) articulate, soft spoken, reasonable and can insult you in such a nice way that you'll thank him for doing so. He had no problem meeting with black leaders and making the requisite noises of regret any time there was a questionable NYPD incident. But the underlying policy of stop and frisk, agitate and intimidate wasn't changed. If anything, it expanded. But because Bloomberg's surface persona was much more pleasant than that of the belligerent Giuliani, much of the public controversy over police stops initially subsided. Now, however, thanks to Commissioner Kelly's pugnacity and the aggressiveness of the NYPD in crossing jurisdictional and legal lines, people may finally be starting to resist and fight back.

There's a lesson there. You may recall the Total Information Awareness Program that was aborted under then President Bush. Democrats and civil libertarians all of stripes raged against this in editorials. They thundered against it in on the airwaves. They called it creeping fascism. So the program was "dropped". Soon afterwards Hope and Change arrived.

And then people went back to sleep, content that they had stopped this wicked idea dead in its tracks. But much like the Terminator or the car Christine, ideas like this don't die. They just slowly and patiently rebuild themselves until they are reborn. Now they might have a modified name or use slightly different people as fronts. But that's all window dressing. The bottom line is government is " like fire, a handy servant but a dangerous master". The government will now be storing information on you for five years. The previous limit was 180 days.
The U.S. intelligence community can now store information on innocent Americans for up to five years under new Obama administration rules, expanding previous authority to hold details on individuals with no ties to terrorism.
The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was previously supposed to immediately destroy intelligence information about Americans when there were no clear ties to terrorism, but now new rules that basically justify spying on innocent Americans are being justified by terrorism fear-mongers.
But wait there's more!!! Behind door number two we have this prize for you!
NERMEEN SHAIKH: A new exposé in Wired Magazine has revealed new details about how the National Security Agency is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah, as part of a secret NSA surveillance program codenamed "Stellar Wind." According to investigative reporter James Bamford, the NSA has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. The Utah spy center will contain near-bottomless databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency. This includes the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases and other digital "pocket litter."

AMY GOODMAN: In addition, the NSA has also created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. James Bamford writes the secret surveillance program "is, in some measure, the realization of the 'total information awareness' program created during the first term of the Bush administration," but later killed by Congress in 2003 due to privacy concerns and public outcry.
Do you get this? EVERYTHING that you communicate electronically, everything that shows who you are, what you read, where you go each day, what sorts of purchases you make, etc is being gathered up in databases where it will be perused and sifted through by government agents.
Now how is this possible if we have a Democratic President, one that taught constitutional law, someone who theoretically has an understanding of the Bill of Rights, of privacy, of individual rights?

It's possible because the neither the Republicans nor Democrats have any real commitment to or understanding of the Bill of Rights. Sure both sides will mouth pious platitudes to certain constitutional guarantees when they are important for some other purpose or to a favored interest group (Republicans and the gun lobby or Democrats and the abortion lobby) but ultimately neither side could give a mosquito's tweeter about the Bill of Rights as a general limitation on the executive branch's ability to investigate, monitor, arrest or compel behavior by the individual. The current President may not have southern swagger or Texas twang or other characteristics or behavior patterns which some progressives didn't like. But when it comes to civil liberties, make no mistake, President Obama is just as dangerous as any right-wing zealot and perhaps more so. Too many people are willing to give him a pass on things they never would have tolerated from President Bush. For example, that recent Supreme Court decision that allowed strip searches of all people arrested, even those arrested for minor non-violent offenses, was supported by the Obama Administration. This cartoon puts it perfectly.

If the below bill were to be proposed today as is with no other changes I don't think it would get passed. I think that Republicans would openly oppose it as a law which protected terrorists. Democrats might say (in front of the cameras) it was a good idea in theory but in practice (once behind closed doors) would carve out so many exceptions while CLAIMING they supported the law that even if passed it would be meaningless.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

What's your take?
Are you bothered by the government gathering information on you?
If Republicans were doing this would we have heard more outcry?

Why aren't civil liberties important to more people? 

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Urban Beat: Patricia Stephens Due

A problem with the "great man" view of history is that it not only elides the fact that there were also "great women" but more importantly it overlooks that fact that social movements are indeed just that. They are made up of numerous people (men and women) who made contributions, both big and small. Many of these people don't get into the history books but were it not for their collective actions, the man or woman in the media spotlight wouldn't have the ability to make the changes they did.

One such woman who just passed away who may have not gotten the recognition from us all while she was here was one Patricia Stephens Due, a leading civil rights activist, author and mother of author Tananarive Due and mother-in-law of author Steve Barnes.
Read more about her incredible life here.

Patricia Stephens Due, whose belief that, as she put it, “ordinary people can do extraordinary things” propelled her to leadership in the civil rights movement — but at a price, including 49 days in a stark Florida jail — died on Tuesday in Smyrna, Ga. She was 72.
At 13, Patricia Stephens challenged Jim Crow orthodoxy by trying to use the “whites only” window at a Dairy Queen. As a college student, she led demonstrations to integrate lunch counters, theaters and swimming pools and was repeatedly arrested.
As a young mother, she pushed two children in a stroller while campaigning for the rights of poor people. As a veteran of integration and voting rights battles, she went on to fight for economic rights, once obstructing a garbage truck in support of striking workers. As an elder stateswoman of the movement, she wrote a memoir to honor “unsung foot soldiers.”
She fought beside John D. Due Jr., a civil rights lawyer, whom she married in 1963. For their honeymoon, they rode the Freedom Train to Washington to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Mrs. Due paid a price for this devotion. She wore large, dark glasses day and night because her eyes were damaged when a hissing tear gas canister hit her in the face...

I thank Mrs. Due and all the men and women of generations before and after her that kept up the good fight, even when things looked their bleakest.
1) Had you heard of Patricia Stephens Due before?
2) Are we collectively doing a good job of capturing the stories of the older civil rights generation and giving them the respect they deserve? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Obama's Indefinite Detention Bill

President Obama is poised to sign a bill (The National Defense Authorization Act-NDAA) which really honestly leaves me almost unable to write because I'm so angry. To put it mildly this is a very bad bill.
It codifies and regularizes indefinite detention of American citizens without trial within the United States of America. Yes that's right. Theoretically you could be minding your own business, running your blog, sending naughty IM's to your SO, chatting with various people across the blog-o-sphere and suddenly jackbooted black helmeted thugs could break down your door, tase you and seize your pc and other private effects and documents, blind you, gag you and prevent you from hearing anything and leisurely drag you off to the local military base (or as far as I know private detention center) where military or national security personnel could keep you imprisoned for as long as they like.

Lawyers? Warrants? Habeas corpus? Bump all that!!!! Of course I'm sure that they wouldn't like torture you or threaten to torture your loved ones because that would be illegal. And with the effective right to a speedy trial guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment , your rights to due process and protection against self-incrimination guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment and especially your protection against warrantless arrest and search guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment you can certainly tell the large humorless men with guns and nightsticks that as they have NO right to hold you you're walking out of there. Yes.

Of course before they start the waterboarding they will probably inform you that under the NDAA the country just collectively squatted and relieved itself over the Bill of Rights. The military, law enforcement and national security personnel don't need to worry about such quaint details anymore. And if THEY don't YOU certainly don't.

It is ironic that people from across the political spectrum from left-wing black nationalists to white racist paleocons to right leaning libertarians to classical liberals to radical socialists can all see the dangers in this bill, soon to become law. Unfortunately the larger American citizenry doesn't see the danger because otherwise something like this would never have been passed in the first place. Certainly the bipartisan Beltway elite don't care because as they well know this bill is not aimed at THEM. It's aimed at YOU.

Laws like this are usually passed because politicians claim to want to keep us safe. The problem is there is no such thing as complete safety. And by trying to reach it you inevitably attack freedom. We all know the Benjamin Franklin quote.
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
But it's worse than that. It's not just well-intentioned people making mistakes out of fear. President Obama may or may not possess the discipline and wisdom to use "responsibly" the powers granted in this new bill. But what about future Presidents? Based on his statements about arresting judges who rule in ways that he finds faulty do you think a President Gingrich could be trusted not to indefinitely detain a few "pointy headed liberals" he doesn't care for? Would a future President Chris Christie find it amusing to indefinitely detain national union leaders who wouldn't sign on to his Social Security plan?  Would a future feminist President order a dismantling of the men's rights movement? Heck, were I President, could I be trusted not to immediately detain Gloria Allred?

Seriously the point is that NO ONE should have to ask those kinds of questions. The entire point of this republic is that no one (wo)man should have that power. Power is supposed to be limited and split among the three branches of government-with the balance held by the people. When one branch of government (or one person) has that kind of power the temptation to use it against political enemies is overwhelming. The act of doing so becomes inevitable. It's not just cheap hyperbole to say that this is the twilight of the republic. On this issue it doesn't matter whether it's Bush or Obama. They are both horrible on civil liberties. Frankly, Obama is sliding into "worse" territory.

There is an excellent analysis of this bill's dangers by legal scholar Glenn Greenwald here. I implore you all to go read it in full as he has the legal knowledge which I lack to put all this into depressing perspective. Some highlights

  • The NDAA codifies into law indefinite detention
  • The NDAA does not exclude American citizens
  • The NDAA permanently expands the scope of the War on Terror.
What’s particularly ironic (and revealing) about all of this is that former White House counsel Greg Craig assured The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer back in February, 2009 that it’s “hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law.” Four months later, President Obama proposed exactly such a law — one that The New York Times described as “a departure from the way this country sees itself, as a place where people in the grip of the government either face criminal charges or walk free” — and now he will sign such a scheme into law.
So far I've only seen one national political figure who has the stones to speak out against this new bill. You may not like him for other reasons but on this issue he's dead on target.

Ron Paul speaks out.

h/t Jonathan Turley

1) Do you think President Obama will sign this bill? If so why?
2) Are civil liberties a concern for you personally? Why or why not?
3) Do you think American citizens should be immune from military detention without trial?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sympathy for the Devil?

Martyrs to Intrusive Government or Racist Abusers?

Do you have sympathy for the Devil? You may remember that in New Jersey, just about two years prior, this Mommy Racist and Daddy Racist tried to get a ShopRite to make a birthday cake that read "Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler". The store refused and the goobers had to go elsewhere. A Wal-Mart agreed to their request. Go figure. At the time the only controversy was over the right to freedom of expression and the right to refuse service.
However these parents appear to be neo-Nazis (though they deny it) and white supremacists who have given all of their children Nazi inspired names-Adolf Hitler, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation, and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie. The incident with the cake evidently placed them on the radar screen of local child protective services. They lost their children. And so far they haven't gotten them back.

The 5-year-old boy, named for the infamous Nazi leader, and his two sisters were taken by New Jersey child welfare officials in 2009.An appeals court ruled last year that Heath and Deborah Campbell should not regain custody of the children, citing the parents' disabilities and the risk of serious injury to their children.
A family court previously found that there was evidence the children had been abused or neglected, but the details were not released because of a gag order.The Campbells, who picketed outside of a child services office in Flemington on Tuesday, have repeatedly spoken out, claiming the children were taken because of their names and nothing more.
"The judge and [the Division of Youth and Family Services] told us that there was no evidence of abuse and that it was the names!" Heath Campbell told NBC 10 News in Philadelphia. "They were taken over the children's names."
It appears that someone is lying here but because of the gag order and family privacy it's not easy for an outsider to determine which party (the state or the parents) is telling the truth. Obviously anyone who abuses children shouldn't be around them and ought to be locked up ASAP. The Penn State tragedy brings that home in a very real way. So if there's actual abuse or neglect then the state is absolutely doing the right thing by removing the children from the home. I think we'd have 100% agreement on that.

On the other hand what if the state is doing an end-run around the concept of abuse or neglect in a physical or sexual manner, and making the claim that merely giving children those names and presumably teaching them hatred is in and of itself abuse or neglect? We know that sometimes states can be rather presumptuous and hasty in deciding to remove children from their home based on rather flimsy evidence or just plain and simple dislike of the parents' lifestyle.

There are many people who grew up in homes that had political, religious or racial beliefs that were far outside the mainstream. That's not enough to take someone's children away from them.  If I want to teach my child to hate someone based on the color of their skin or their religion or heritage, that's an immoral decision, but it's one that a parent gets to make with impunity. It's not the state's business.

I don't have a good take on this incident one way or the other.

1) Abuse allegations aside, have these parents proven to be unfit?
2) Should the state be able to veto certain names for children?
3) Do we have the proper balance between protecting children and familial independence?