“Justifiable homicides” by police at record high

Notes on police violence in America

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By Tom Hall
27 November 2014

FBI data released over the past month reveals that so-called “justifiable homicides” reached a record high last year, while the number of officers killed in the line of duty fell to its lowest level in decades.

According to the data, which appeared in a Monday article on the Washington Post web site, 461 American civilians were killed by on-the-job police officers in 2013, while 27 police officers were killed by civilians.

The article notes the correlation between the record killings and the militarization of American police over the same period, “fueled by a glut of surplus military equipment heading home from Iraq and Afghanistan.” The FBI’s “justifiable homicide” figures increase steadily around 1998, the year after the start of the US Government’s Defense Logistics Agency’s 1033 program, which parcels out surplus military equipment to state and local police.

The FBI figures for “justifiable homicide,” defined by the agency as “the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty,” is widely acknowledged to be an undercount, according to the Post, because the methodology is not uniform from state to state. There are no comprehensive nationwide statistics on police brutality, despite the government being required to do so by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed in 1994. However, a Facebook page titled “Killed by Police,” which posts links to news stories on police killings, has counted more than 1,450 killings by police officers since its launch on May 1, 2013.

Los Angeles police kill two more over replica weapon

Sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles gunned down Eduardo Bermundez, 26, and Ricardo Avelar-Lara, 57, early in the morning of Sunday, November 16, after Bermundez was alleged to have threatened someone with a handgun that later turned out to be a replica.

This was at least the fourth police murder this year involving a person holding a toy or replica weapon. It follows the deaths of John Crawford III for carrying a pellet gun and Darrien Hunt for carrying a replica samurai sword. Only a week ago, police killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice on a Cleveland playground for carrying a toy pistol.

An eyewitness claimed that at around 2:20 AM Bermundez and Avelar-Lara pulled up alongside his car in an East Los Angeles parking lot and pointed the “weapon,” a replica .45 caliber handgun, at him. The eyewitness tailed their car while calling 911, eventually flagging down a sheriff’s patrol vehicle.

Deputies pulled the car over in a nearby apartment complex, where according to the police report Bermundez “started to pull a handgun out of his pants and point it in the direction of the deputies.” Police immediately opened fire, killing both Bermundez and Avelar-Lara, who was standing behind him. They were pronounced dead at the scene one minute later at 2:40 AM, twenty minutes from the first alleged incident.

Bermundez had been at his 3 year-old nephew’s birthday party the previous afternoon not far from where he was murdered, according to relatives. “It’s just hard to imagine that from one day to another he’s gone,” Bermundez’s cousin told the local ABC affiliate. “He was always a happy guy.”

NYPD beating of subway turnstile jumper captured on video

A New York police officer was caught on video Thursday night beating a black youth in the head with his baton for attempting to enter a Brooklyn subway station without paying the $2.50 fare.

The video shows the officer, who is also black, striking 20-year-old Donovan Lawson twice, first in the leg and then on the crown of his head, causing extensive bleeding. Striking a suspect in the head with a baton is against official NYPD policy. Lawson then stumbles through the station with the officer on his back before finally being pinned against a wall and handcuffed by four officers while his horrified girlfriend looks on.

In the video Lawson’s forehead bleeds so profusely that his girlfriend is drenched in his blood by the time the officers are able to pull her away. The eyewitness who shot the video on his cell phone said that before the video began Lawson had been pepper-sprayed, which was confirmed by the police.

Lawson, who had no criminal record prior to his arrest last week, was charged with fare beating, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and disrupting government administration. He later received treatment for cuts to his head at Woodhull Hospital. The officer was taken to Wyckoff Heights Hospital, where he was treated for injuries to his arm and hand.

New Jersey cops kill schizophrenic man during welfare check

Police in Phllipsburg, New Jersey killed Thomas Read, a 36-year old schizophrenic man, after his mother asked them to monitor him during an episode. Read was wielding a knife and “refused to comply with police orders,” according to the police.

Read had run out of his medication due to problems with his medical insurance, according to his mother Anne Read. According to family friend Joel Andreano, who told the Express-Times newspaper, “He was talking about flaming swords and stuff,” when he called him on Thursday. “He obviously was delusional. I called [his mother back] back and told her, ‘No, I don’t think he’s doing good.’ She should call the police.”

Police checked up on Read the following Friday without incident, according to Andreano, who told The Express-Times that Read seemed “calm, happy” when he met with him later that day.

The following Monday, police conducted another welfare check at Reid’s apartment, after his neighbor expressed concerns about threatening letters and a knife stuck to Reid’s front door, according to Adreano. Police found Read in his house when they arrived, and talked to him through his window, according to footage shown to The Express-Times. Read hurled an “unknown object” through an opening in the window at police, who responded by breaking the window and unsuccessfully attempting to climb through to get at Read. Police entered the house through a back entrance, according to residents, who reported that they heard “four or five” gunshots.

Andreano expressed his dismay at the police’s handling of the situation. “He needed help … He needed to get to the hospital because he didn’t have his medicine.”

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/27/brut-n27.html

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

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Photo “Meditation” by DJ Apollo.  All rights reserved.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers!!!

I’m deeply thankful this year for the love of my spouse, Joey. We will be celebrating 36 years together next month. And for my parrot, Algeron: 25 years together. I hope all of you are having an amazing Thanksgiving day. Joey and I are watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade from New York: a tradition.

It’s important to remember, however, that for many, myself included, the beginning of the “holiday season” is not all fun and merriment. The holidays, the commercial from “Blue Buffalo” that just came on announced, are all about family. Most of my blood family have passed on: mother, father, grandparents, aunts and uncles, even my only sibling, my younger brother, and my only child, my beloved daughter Amoret. One cannot help but reflect on these losses and conjure up the memories of those who are gone. On the bright side I am happy that I made the acquaintance of my nephew, David, in Florida this year as well as renewed friendship with my cousin Lorraine, also in Florida. My grandchildren and nieces and nephews are scattered about the country. Modern life. When I was growing up family was a short drive away.

The worst part of the “holiday season” for me is the frantic commercialism. I refuse to participate in it. But it’s hard to avoid the media blitz. Since we mostly watch movies on the TV these days we are not subject to the horrid commercials. The mailbox, however, fills every day with people asking for money and AdBlock Plus can’t filter out all of the holiday money-focused “cheer” on the net. I genuinely hate all of this and wish I could move to another place with no “holiday season” until it all passes.

Finally, this time of year has become a period of meditation for me on the past, present and future. My situation is such that every day is precious. I’ve been dancing with death for some time now, and I know that my time is limited. Joey’s medical crisis last Sunday is another terrifying reminder of the limitations of human existence. In this state of mind the trivial becomes unimportant; things lose meaning and value; only love and giving of oneself are primary.

Political lessons of the Ferguson whitewash

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26 November 2014

Monday night’s announcement by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch that police officer Darren Wilson will not be charged is being seen throughout the country and around the world as a judicial travesty.

From the beginning, the process leading up to the final decision was rigged for one purpose and one purpose only: to protect the cop who murdered unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Rather than present charges to a judge for an indictment, the state convened a grand jury, replacing a public trial with a secret, closed-door hearing in which the evidence was controlled by the prosecutor’s office, led by an individual with close ties to the police. This was followed by the highly unusual decision by the prosecution not to request and argue for specific charges.

Transcripts of the grand jury proceedings reveal clear and evident bias, with prosecutors devoting themselves to discrediting all evidence, including eyewitness testimony, that did not conform to the narrative that was required. Wilson, in contrast, went unchallenged as he presented his own self-serving account over the course of four hours. Throughout the hearings, the prosecutor’s office sought to place Michael Brown, not Darren Wilson, on trial.

Grand juries almost invariably file charges that prosecutors seek, and this case was no different. Despite the overwhelming evidence that a crime was committed, the grand jury did not indict because the prosecution did not want an indictment.

The whitewash of Wilson’s crimes, however, cannot be explained merely as the result of the misdeeds of McCulloch. The actions of the prosecutor were part of a highly orchestrated political operation, with the close involvement, as McCulloch himself was at pains to emphasize, of the Obama administration.

Given the enormous popular anger over the killing of Brown, and the clear legal foundation for a trial, one might ask why the grand jury did not at least return an indictment for a lesser crime, such as manslaughter. Or why an indictment was not delivered and a trial conducted—a trial that, given the sympathies of the prosecution, would have very likely produced the same result: the exoneration of Wilson. In the three months that passed between the killing of Michael Brown and the final decision not to indict, there was no doubt debate behind the scenes over these different possibilities.

Two factors explain the thinking of the ruling class in reaching the decision that it did. There is, first of all, the element of provocation. The ruling class has seized on the events in Ferguson as an opportunity to establish new precedents for repression in the United States. Indeed, the timing of the announcement of the grand jury decision, in the late evening, seems to have been deliberately calculated to create the best conditions for police violence.

In an escalation of the response to the protests in August, riot police armed with automatic weapons and armored vehicles, firing bean bags and tear gas, patrolled the streets Monday night. On Tuesday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon—who declared a preemptive state of emergency a week before the grand jury decision—announced that 2,200 members of National Guard, a branch of the Armed Forces, would be deployed directly against protesters. An American city is effectively being occupied.

Second, the decision has the character of the ruling class circling the wagons. Whatever different tactical possibilities were discussed, in the end a decision was made that, in the face of mounting social unrest, there could be no concessions, for any concession would be seen as a sign of weakness and only encourage more opposition.

Yet in defending its rule through violence, the ruling class is only further discrediting itself before the entire world. A state that has organized wars in every region of the globe, invariably justified on the basis of defending human rights, employs the most brutal forms of repression against opposition within its borders.

In sections of the media there is a certain nervousness over the political consequences of these actions. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, for example, expresses concern that McColloch’s “pathetic prosecution of Darren Wilson” has reinforced “a sense among African Americans, and many others, that the justice system is rigged.”

The New York Times, speaking on behalf of sections of the Democratic Party, worries in an editorial posted Tuesday that the “scarred streets of St. Louis—and the outrage that continues to reverberate across the country…show once again that distrust of law enforcement presents a grave danger to the civic fabric of the United States.” This “grave danger” has been fueled, the Times writes, by the decision not to indict Wilson.

While these comments are generally framed in racial terms, the underlying issue is class. The ruling class is well aware that the policies it is pursuing—endless war abroad and social counterrevolution at home—are deeply unpopular. By a “grave danger to the civic fabric,” the Times means uncontrollable social unrest, even revolution.

While aware of seething social discontent, the ruling class has nothing to offer. The Times itself places its criticism of the grand jury decision within the framework of praise for the role of Obama, as if his administration were not central to both the outcome in Ferguson and the broader political crisis facing the American ruling class.

Obama’s own response to the grand jury decision is revealing. The president immediately rushed to make a statement on national television declaring the results valid and legitimate. “We are a nation built on the rule of law,” he said, “so we have to accept this decision was the grand jury’s to make.” This is nothing more than an endorsement of the judicial and legal fraud. While associating himself with a decision giving police a license to kill, Obama declared, referring to protesters, that there is “never an excuse for violence.”

Six years of the Obama administration have not gone unnoticed. Millions of workers and young people in the United States have begun to draw the conclusion that there is no mechanism within the existing social and political system to address their concerns or express their opposition. This understanding has only been further confirmed by the exoneration of Darren Wilson. These are the hallmarks of a system that is heading inexorably toward ruin.

Joseph Kishore

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/26/pers-n26.html

Chronicle of a Riot Foretold

FERGUSON, Missouri—For a hundred and eight days, through the suffocating heat that turned the city into a kiln, through summer thunderstorms and the onset of an early winter, through bureaucratic callousness and the barbs of cynics who held that the effort was of no use and the prickly fear that they might be right, a community in Ferguson, Missouri, held vigil nightly, driven by the need to validate a simple principle: black lives matter. On November 24, 2014, we learned that they do indeed matter, just less than others—less than the prerogatives of those who wield power here, less than even the cynics may have suspected.

Last night, the streets of Ferguson were congested with smoke and anger and disillusionment and disbelief, and also with batons and the malevolent percussion of gunfire and the hundreds of uniformed men brought here to marshal and display force. Just after eight on Monday evening, after a rambling dissertation from the St. Louis County Prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, that placed blame for tensions on social media and the twenty-four-hour news cycle, and ended with the announcement that the police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for shooting Michael Brown six times, the crowd that gathered in front of the police headquarters, on South Florissant Road, began to swell. Their mood was sombre at first, but some other sentiment came to the fore, and their restraint came unmoored. A handful of men began chanting “Fuck the police!” in front of the line of officers in riot gear that had gathered in front of the headquarters. Gunshots, the first I heard that night, cut through the air, and a hundred people began drifting in the direction of the bullets. One man ripped down a small camera mounted on a telephone pole. A quarter mile away, the crowd encountered an empty police car and within moments it was aflame. A line of police officers in military fatigues and gas masks turned a corner and began moving north toward the police building. There were four hundred protesters and nearly that many police officers filling an American street, one side demanding justice, one side demanding order, both recognizing that neither of those things was in the offing that night.

What transpired in Ferguson last night was entirely predictable, widely anticipated, and, yet, seemingly inevitable. Late last week, Michael Brown, Sr., released a video pleading for calm, his forlorn eyes conveying exhaustion born of not only shouldering grief but also of insisting on civic calm in the wake of his son’s death. One of the Brown family’s attorneys, Anthony Gray, held a press conference making the same request, and announced that a team of citizen peacekeepers would be present at any subsequent protests. Ninety minutes later, the St. Louis mayor, Francis Slay, held a press conference in which he pledged that the police would show restraint in the event of protests following the grand-jury decision. He promised that tear gas and armored vehicles would not be deployed to manage protests. The two conferences bore a disturbing symmetry, an inversion of pre-fight hype in which each side deprecated about possible violence but expressed skepticism that the other side was capable of doing the same. It’s possible that, recognizing that violence was all but certain, both sides were seeking to deflect the charge that they had encouraged it. Others offered no such pretense. Days ahead of the announcement, local businesses began boarding up their doors and windows like a coastal town anticipating a hurricane. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a preëmptive state of emergency a week before the grand jury concluded its work. His announcement was roughly akin to declaring it daytime at 3 A.M. because the sun will rise eventually.

From the outset, the great difficulty has been discerning whether the authorities are driven by malevolence or incompetence. The Ferguson police let Brown’s body lie in the street for four and a half hours, an act that either reflected callous disregard for him as a human being or an inability to manage the situation. The release of Darren Wilson’s name was paired with the release of a video purportedly showing Brown stealing a box of cigarillos from a convenience store, although Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson later admitted that Wilson was unaware of the incident when he confronted the young man. (McCulloch contradicted this in his statement on the non-indictment.) Last night, McCulloch made the inscrutable choice to announce the grand jury’s decision after darkness had fallen and the crowds had amassed in the streets, factors that many felt could only increase the risk of violence. Despite the sizable police presence, few officers were positioned on the stretch of West Florissant Avenue where Brown was killed. The result was that damage to the area around the police station was sporadic and short-lived, but Brown’s neighborhood burned. This was either bad strategy or further confirmation of the unimportance of that community in the eyes of Ferguson’s authorities.

The pleas of Michael Brown’s father and Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, were ultimately incapable of containing the violence that erupted last night, because in so many ways what happened here extended beyond their son. His death was a punctuation to a long, profane sentence, one which has insulted a great many, and with damning frequency of late. In his statement after the decision was announced, President Barack Obama took pains to point out that “there is never an excuse for violence.” The man who once told us that there was no black America or white America but only the United States of America has become a President whose statements on unpunished racial injustices are a genre unto themselves. Perhaps it only seems contradictory that the deaths of Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford and John Crawford and Michael Brown—all unarmed black men shot by men who faced no official sanction for their actions—came during the first black Presidency.* Or perhaps the message here is that American democracy has reached the limits of its elasticity—that the symbolic empowerment of individuals, while the great many remain citizen-outsiders, is the best that we can hope for. The air last night, thick with smoke and gunfire, suggested something damning of the President.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post conflated the names of Ezell Ford and John Crawford.

Monolithic corporations aren’t our saviors — they’re the central part of the problem.

Tech Companies Are Peddling a Phony Version of Security, Using the Govt. as the Bogeyman

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This week the USA Freedom Act was blocked in the Senate as it failed to garner the 60 votes required to move forward. Presumably the bill would have imposed limits on NSA surveillance. Careful scrutiny of the bill’s text however reveals yet another mere gesture of reform, one that would codify and entrench existing surveillance capabilities rather than eliminate them.

Glenn Greenwald, commenting from his perch at the Intercept, opined:

“All of that illustrates what is, to me, the most important point from all of this: the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the U.S. government is . . . the U.S. government. Governments don’t walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power, and that’s particularly true of empires.”

Anyone who followed the sweeping deregulation of the financial industry during the Clinton era, the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999 which effectively repealed Glass-Steagall and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, immediately sees through Greenwald’s impromptu dogma. Let’s not forget the energy market deregulation in California and subsequent manipulation that resulted in blackouts throughout the state. Ditto that for the latest roll back of arms export controls that opened up markets for the defense industry. And never mind all those hi-tech companies that want to loosen H1-B restrictions.

The truth is that the government is more than happy to cede power and authority… just as long as doing so serves the corporate factions that have achieved state capture. The “empire” Greenwald speaks of is a corporate empire. In concrete analytic results that affirm Thomas Ferguson’s Investment Theory of Party Competition, researchers from Princeton and Northwestern University conclude that:

“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Glenn’s stance reveals a broader libertarian theme. One that the Koch brothers would no doubt find amenable: the government is suspect and efforts to rein in mass interception must therefore arise from the corporate entities. Greenwald appears to believe that the market will solve everything. Specifically, he postulates that consumer demand for security will drive companies to offer products that protect user privacy, adopt “strong” encryption, etc.

The Primacy of Security Theater

Certainly large hi-tech companies care about quarterly earnings. That definitely explains all of the tax evasion, wage ceilings, and the slave labor. But these same companies would be hard pressed to actually protect user privacy because spying on users is a fundamental part of their business model. Like government spies, corporate spies collect and monetize oceans of data.

Furthermore hi-tech players don’t need to actually bullet-proof their products to win back customers. It’s far more cost effective to simply manufacture the perception of better security: slap on some crypto, flood the news with public relation pieces, and get some government officials (e.g. James ComeyRobert Hannigan, and Stewart Baker) to whine visibly about the purported enhancements in order to lend the marketing campaign credibility. The techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley are masters of Security Theater.

Witness, if you will, Microsoft’s litany of assurances about security over the years, followed predictably by an endless train of critical zero-day bugs. Faced with such dissonance it becomes clear that “security” in high-tech is viewed as a public relations issue, a branding mechanism to boost profits. Greenwald is underestimating the contempt that CEOs have for the credulity of their user base, much less their own workers.

Does allegedly “strong” cryptography offer salvation? Cryptome’s John Young thinks otherwise:

“Encryption is a citizen fraud, bastard progeny of national security, which offers malware insecurity requiring endless ‘improvements’ to correct the innately incorrigible. Its advocates presume it will empower users rather than subject them to ever more vulnerability to shady digital coders complicit with dark coders of law in exploiting fear, uncertainty and doubt.”

Business interests, having lured customers in droves with a myriad of false promises, will go back to secretly cooperating with government spies as they always have: introducing subtle weaknesses into cryptographic protocols, designing backdoors that double as accidental zero-day bugs, building rootkits which hide in plain sight, and handing over user data. In other words all of the behavior that was described by Edward Snowden’s documents. Like a jilted lover, consumers will be pacified with a clever sales pitch that conceals deeper corporate subterfuge.

Ultimately it’s a matter of shared class interest. The private sector almost always cooperates with the intelligence services because American spies pursue the long-term prerogatives of neoliberal capitalism; open markets and access to resources the world over. Or perhaps someone has forgotten the taped phone call of Victoria Nuland selecting the next prime minister of Ukraine as the IMF salivates over austerity measures? POTUS caters to his constituents, the corporate ruling class, which transitively convey their wishes to clandestine services like the CIA. Recall Ed Snowden’s open letter to Brazil:

“These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”

To confront the Deep State Greenwald is essentially advocating that we elicit change by acting like consumers instead of constitutionally endowed citizens. This is a grave mistake because profits can be decoupled from genuine security in a society defined by secrecy, propaganda, and state capture. Large monolithic corporations aren’t our saviors. They’re the central part of the problem. We shouldn’t run to the corporate elite to protect us. We should engage politically to retake and remake our republic.

 

Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis.

http://www.alternet.org/tech-companies-are-peddling-phony-version-security-using-govt-bogeyman?akid=12501.265072.yCLOb-&rd=1&src=newsletter1027620&t=29&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Justice for Mike Brown

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Mike Brown’s killer may not be held accountable unless President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder take steps for a federal case. The Department of Justice must take action!

Help ensure justice for Mike Brown. http://justiceformikebrown.org/

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