Briefly, On Disbelief: Keith Lamont Scott and Terrence Crutcher

Charlotte

Jonathan Ferrell crashed his car in 2013. Badly injured, he went to the nearest house seeking assistance. The woman in the house called the police instead, insisting that a man was trying to break into her house. When the police arrived, they shot Jonathan Ferrell, and he died. He was guilty of having been injured in a car accident.

This incident occurred in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, in North Carolina. Randall Kerrick is the officer who shot at Ferrell. He shot 12 times, hitting Ferrell 10 times. Of those 12 total shots, 8 were fired after Ferrell was already on the ground, crawling, likely as the result of the combination of the injuries that he sustained from his car accident and the first shots having hit him.

Kerrick’s case went to trial. The jury deadlocked and the prosecutors refused to prosecute him again. It has been a year since Kerrick’s behavior was officially sanctioned by the judicial system.

Keith Lamont Scott was killed in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina yesterday. Although police were in the area searching for a suspect in an unrelated crime, Scott was not involved. What happened at his shooting remains, predictably, up for interpretation. Police say that he had a gun, and that although he did not point it at police (which seems like the sort of detail that might be very important for the telling of this story), he also did not drop it when he had been told to. Scott’s family disputes this version, insisting that he was a disabled man awaiting his son’s school bus, and that he was sitting in his car reading a book.

Even if we are willing to accept the Charlotte Police Department’s version of these events, nobody has explained what was necessarily wrong with Scott getting out of the car with a gun (especially if he did not point the gun at the police), as North Carolina is an open-carry state. Simply possessing a gun is not a crime.

There is currently no publicly available video of Scott’s killing, both because the footage is not often released, and because the officer who shot Scott was not wearing a camera at the time, and because North Carolina’s conservative government does not want footage of this sort to be released to the public, as it leads to things like the public concluding that maybe all police killings are not always justified.

It remains unclear what will happen to Brentley Vinson, the officer who shot Scott, although he is currently on leave. (As the story unfolds it should be noted that various sources are currently reporting that eyewitness accounts insist that the shooter was white; Vinson is black.) The investigation into the killing is ongoing.

 

Tulsa

Eric Harris was unarmed and fleeing from police in 2013 when he ran into Robert Bates, a frequent donor to Tulsa’s Police Department (TPD) who has been made a Reserve Deputy as a reward for his money. Bates often went on ridealongs with the TPD. When Harris came near, Bates has claimed that he was only trying to use a taser on Harris but mistakenly grabbed his gun instead. The single bullet that Bates fired eventually killed Harris. Police on the scene, who did their very best to excuse Bates having shot Harris (they utilized the same “It was an accident!” defense that was tried after Johannes Mehserle executed Oscar Grant), told a dying Harris that he could ”fuck his breath.” Mercifully, Bates (although not his enablers) ended up going to prison, where he has spent his time insisting that he is the real victim in all this.

Terrence Crutcher was killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma last Friday. His car had broken down and passing officers stopped to assist, apparently, but by the end of their interaction, Crutcher was bleeding out beside his SUV while officers dilly-dallied in providing him medical attention.

If you can believe it, there are predictably competing stories about what exactly happened, and unlike in Keith Lamont Scott’s case, there is video available. In this particular case, there are two separate videos, one from a police cruiser, one from a police helicopter (the pilot of which described Crutcher as a “bad dude” entirely upon the basis that he was black). Crutcher was, perhaps, not in perfect shape right from the outset, as briefly interacted with Betty Shelby, the TPD office who would later kill him, he stuck his hands in air, something she found suspicious. 

shelby-hands-up

Crutcher was not armed, nor did he have a weapon in his car, although that has not stopped Shelby’s lawyer from insisting that the officer’s entirely incorrect perception of her own danger justifies Crutcher having lost his life. At least part of the disagreement between the police and those representing Crutcher is whether his car’s windows were open, the implication being that he could not have been reaching into a closed window for a weapon that the police are willing to acknowledge was not, in fact, there. There have also been ugly allegations that Crutcher was high on PCP at the time of his killing, although toxicology remains as of yet unavailable. The TPD have confirmed that there was PCP found in Crutcher’s car. Possessing PCP is not cause for the death penalty in Oklahoma.

It remains unclear what will happen to Shelby, the TPD officer who shot Crutcher to death, although she is currently on leave. Chuck Jordan, the chief of the TPD, has described the videos as “very disturbing and difficult to watch.” That does not seem like an absolutely ringing endorsement of what happened. The investigation into the killing is ongoing.

 

Conclusions

It is possible to imagine that, in both cases, evidence will emerge that will irrefutably justify these killings. Perhaps Scott not only absolutely had a weapon, but pointed it at police officers. Perhaps Crutcher was not only high on PCP, but an immediate threat to police officers. Perhaps. But even if this is the case, it is entirely understandable why members of both communities would struggle to believe these stories, especially considering what has happened in the recent past in both places. It is a monumental task to repair trust lost in situations like Ferrell’s and Harris’s, particularly if that trust was never particularly strong to begin with. 

 

And that is before any attempt to properly understand numbers that clear show that African-Americans are disproportionately victimized by the police. This is not a he-said, she-said situation, nor is it debatable. Police forces deal differently with African-American populations than they do with white ones. That will be true whether or not what happened to Scott and Crutcher ends up being systemically explained away.

But before we finish, it should be noted that stories like this are not helping either, especially as examples of them continue to pile up:

 

Back To North Carolina

Back In July, police in the North Carolina somehow managed not to execute William Bruce Ray. He was shooting at them with a gun. And when that gun was taken away from him, he started shooting at them with another gun. He is currently not gut-shot, not bleeding out on the pavement, and is, in fact, alive.

William Bruce Ray is white.

 


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347 thoughts on “Briefly, On Disbelief: Keith Lamont Scott and Terrence Crutcher

  1. “William Bruce Ray is white.”

    I’m genuinely curious here. The Charlotte shooting involved a black officer. Assuming your are correct and racism is a factor in most/all shootings of black men…how did the Charlotte officer also become racist? Is it just a culture of racism on the force that negatively affected him? Is it his perception of what he sees in these communities? Is it something else? Or is it just some sort of unspoken peer pressure that caused him to shoot a black man?

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    • A couple of things:

      1. There seems to be some thread of this story imply that the named shooter isn’t the actual shooter. I’m not sure what is going on there.

      2. Police treat white and black populations differently. That seems to be holding even in this particular case. If it helps, think about blue versus white and blue versus black.

      3. Police are more likely to try to work with (potentially) violent white people. That much seems overwhelmingly true. That isn’t to say that police don’t kill white people; but is William Bruce Ray alive today if he is black?

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      • Point number 2 I think is the biggest issue from a policy perspective. We are where we are in large part because the law is extremely deferential to police in their use of force. They aren’t likely to be held accountable regardless of who is on the receiving end of the force in question. In practice this means that disadvantaged people, be it for racial or class based reasons, who have the most interaction with the police are most likely to find out the hard way that police get carte blanche.

        Point number 3 I think is a red herring. Just because the police can largey use force without consequence doesnt mean they always will. Armed non-white suspects are frequently taken into custody without being killed. That doesn’t want we don’t have a serious problem here, and a serious problem that involves race but I don’t think that comparison takes the question in a direction that leads to us improving the situation.

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        • I’m not sure I understand the second paragraph. The point here is plainly, “Why can’t police treat minorities with the same deference that they seem to be able to treat whites with?” Is that a bad question to be asking?

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          • If that’s the point you’re making then the fact that one time an armed and dangerous white person was taken into custody without being killed doesn’t support it. Armed black suspects are taken into custody without being killed all the time. I also disagree with your argument that the police are more deferential to white suspects. Police kill white suspects under very dubious circumstances as well. Why it happens disproportionately to blacks does have a racial component (particularly related to police saturation in particular neighborhoods) but it’s more complicated than that alone. My point above is that reducing this problem to the police shoot black people but not white people and using that particular example is such an oversimplification as so be unhelpful.

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              • Let me respond with another question. Does the fact that John Allen Muhammad was taken into custody without being killed prove that there isn’t a problem with how police use force against black men? I would say no, and that the circumstances of that particular data point aren’t of much utility here. Your example suggests however that you would think otherwise.

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                  • No. I’d require evidence that armed white suspects are never or almost never killed while armed black suspects are always or almost always killed. What I don’t think is that data points of that nature are central to the question at hand. From where I sit, the question is why do police escalate mundane encounters with apparently non violent people into use of deadly force, and the follow up question, of why black people are disproportionately harmed/end up the victims of these situations.

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                    • A big part of the problem is that police are not required to maintain or compile detailed statistics regarding use of force incidents. So a lot of the numbers you see are gleaned from media reports.

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                    • I have no idea what the numbers on this would shake out to be, obviously.

                      But I will confess, a few years ago I was sure that there would be a push back of the cops-killing-blacks narrative that, indicative of the real numbers or not, would involve the periodic publishing by Daily Caller types of police videos of white unarmed people being shot. Sort of a, “See? It’s everyone, not just people of color!”

                      It’s been hard not to notice that it seems like we still get a video of an unarmed black person being shot something like every month, and those videos of the corresponding white people who are unarmed don’t seem to have really surfaced.

                      That’s not to say they don’t exist, of course. Maybe they do, and the Daily Caller publishes them daily, and I’ve just never seen one? I’m genuinely curious. As it stands, it sure does seem like there’s a pretty common denominator of these police videos that keep popping up.

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                      • For whatever this is worth, we’ve had cops kill two white people around here in the past two years. One had a shotgun (the family claimed otherwise) and the other allegedly tried to ram the police in a vehicle (I don’t remember if a defense was mounted). In neither case was video available.

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                      • Such videos exist, but they don’t get as much play on the media, and the incidents tend not to result in large protests.

                        But that is why I said we should have statistics on use of force, not just shootings or killings, but any time police were unable to take a person into custody peacefully. And detailed stats, like race, number of police & civilians directly involved in an incident, type(s) of force used (pummeling, baton, chemical, taser, firearm), etc.

                        Of course, assembling such stats is a pain, and costs money, so getting them would not only require a legal requirement, but also budget support.

                        ETA: I suspect if we looked at such stats, what we’d find is that the perception of danger is skewed. I suspect that (as a percentage of interactions) black people might be less complacent during arrest, but that white people are more likely to actually attempt to cripple or kill an officer.

                        But I could be wrong.

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                      • I think the Daily Caller is smart enough to know that doing that would not have the results they want. If anything I think it would make it harder for white people whose instincts are to believe the police to do so.

                        That said you can find all sorts of instances where white people have been killed or abused by police in dubious circumstances if you look. For a relatively recent one google ‘Daniel Shaver.’ There was also the Missouri SWAT raid a couple years ago where thankfully no one was killed (except the dog). Local incidents to me involved Cheryl Lynn Noel and Cheye Calvo.

                        Now please do not take what I’m about to say as criticism of BLM or black activists focusing on the racial aspects of this issue. They’re right to do it and I generally support them. However, the reason it’s being portrayed as a black issue by the MSM (and therefore we don’t get the same discussion when bad things happen to white people at the hands of law enforcement) is because it would shine a big spotlight on the problems with editorial preferences for state action. I’d hesitate to say the MSM wants this to be solely a race issue, but I think it’s much easier for them to process it that way and its consistent with the narrative they push. Again I want to reiterate race is part of this and black people are disproportionately impacted but my opinion is that it goes beyond that.

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      • There is also systemic racism that affects black victims, even when some of the individuals in the system who enact it are themselves black.

        For example police departments that heavily police black neighbhourhoods, brief their officers encouraging them to expect more aggression, and err more in the direction of pre-emptive “self-defence”, when they are patroling black neighbourhoods, etc.

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        • The named NC officer is black. The Tulsa officer is white. But anyway, the issue is police hostility toward minority populations. That would seem to (potentially) trump (ugh) race.

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      • You aren’t answering my question. You’re describing what you see happening, but you aren’t explaining how it happens that a black cop becomes racist once they join the force. I want to know the cultural forces at work there, because if the forces can cause them to turn, it’s obviously going to have an even greater impact on white officers. Or maybe most police recruits are already racist?

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        • Institutional pressures. The configuration of the institution says “Mr. Posh From Shiny Whitey Town” is untouchable. “Mr. Puddin’ Pop” (oh, wait, my bad, that’s a BAD example)… Let’s try again… Ms. Streetwalker (of whatever color) is to be harassed if she’s on certain corners, and not on others.

          People of all colors are to be harassed if they’re in neighborhoods where they are a minority color, no matter what.

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        • You aren’t answering my question. You’re describing what you see happening, but you aren’t explaining how it happens that a black cop becomes racist once they join the force.

          It’s sort of like how people view the historical US practice of slavery as racist, even though (as Dinish D’Souza points out) there were blacks who owned slaves.

          When you talk to BLM activists or other minority advocates, it’s actually pretty rare that they paint things on a White People vs. Black People canvas. I think this trips up conservatives, because I think often times this is the argument they assume people are having with them.

          It’s actually more a series of “if you treat a group of people like dogs, this is what happens” arguments. So under that argument, then yes, a white person might well be quicker to pull a trigger on a black man, because they’ve “learned” that black men are dangerous and scary.

          But that argument also holds that other black people are also going to be quicker to pull that same trigger, because they have also “learned” that black men are dangerous and scary.

          (As a side note, this is also basically why black on black crime isn’t seen by people on the left as proof that racism doesn’t exist.)

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          • In fact, there’s actually a useful corollary regarding another controversial issue and where you come down on it that might be helpful here:

            Should we teach everyone that all men are dangerous potential rapists, and should be treated with suspicion by all women?

            I know from previous threads that your take on this is that no, they shouldn’t, for a variety of reasons. What does it say that the vast majority of a group who have never engaged (or even desired to engage) in horrible behavior are assumed to have done so? What about a young boy, being raised constantly being told that he’s really a rapist deep down, no matter what he’s done? What does that do to that boy? How does it effect his views of himself and other men when he grows up, if that’s the message that gets drilled into his head all his life? How does it affect how other people see him, if they’ve been raised to think the exact same thing?

            Minority activists and advocates would argue that something exactly like this is what happens to black people (and especially to black men) all of the their lives — and that the results are pretty much the same as what you fear would happen if we started teaching everyone that all men are dangerous rapists.

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            • “What does it say that the vast majority of a group who have never engaged (or even desired to engage) in horrible behavior are assumed to have done so? … Minority activists and advocates would argue that something exactly like this is what happens to black people (and especially to black men) all of the their lives.”

              And police activists/defenders would argue the same for their people. So where does that leave us?

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              • Different question. You were asking how a black officer shooting a black civilian could possibly be seen as indicative of racism by people; I was trying to explain to you how it can be.

                But to answer your implied question, I think activists would argue that since one group has some unilateral discretion to open fire on the other, it’s not so same/same as all that.

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        • Mike D,

          You’re describing what you see happening, but you aren’t explaining how it happens that a black cop becomes racist once they join the force. I want to know the cultural forces at work there,

          This is a good question, and one that is probably really hard to answer with any real precision since what you’re asking for is more-or-less a causal analysis accounting for the described behavior. And that’s tricky.

          One thing I’d say is that pinning excessive use of force by cops against black men on racism is too simplistic since it a) doesn’t distinguish the types of racism in play and b) excludes other contributory factors from being considered. For example, institutional racism doesn’t require any conscious intent to harm black people (yet the harm is very real), while a more personally held racism likely will. Both of those types exist within police forces to some extent. Add in statistical metrics of violent crime rates and an institutionally self-serving (and entirely rational!) desire of cops to minimize their own risk (coupled with cultural phenomena like the Blue Code and union protections), and you have a recipe for the excessive use of force applied disproportionately against blacks.

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          • I linked this article above, but didn’t really show my work.

            On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.

            And

            It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed.

            The following anecdote is chilling, if all to believable.

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            • That is a great piece and should be required reading to start the convo. Even people who say “racism” is thrown around to much incessantly want to talk about nothing but racism. Cops are a group that have their own mores and in group rules. Those in group rules can lead to dangerous biases and wanting to stay solid with the in group. That really shouldn’t be all that strange an idea and has been around since at least the 70’s.

              In one sense it should very much trouble liberal types and POC since it suggests that we need more than to just get more POC in the cops. Sure that is a good idea but it isn’t enough. Changing institutions is very hard and none of the simple solutions ( hire more POC cops, bust unions,etc) are enough even is some of them might have value.

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              • How many vectors are in play wrt “racism by cops”?

                – personal, individual, pure racism.
                – institutional racism.
                – data and statistics of crime rates.
                – who the cops actually work for in terms of funding and taxes.
                – unions.
                – the Blue Wall of Silence and etc.
                – an institutional cop culture comprised of authoritarians.
                – the politics of being tough on crime (state legislators).
                – the politics of prosecutors demanding high conviction rates.
                – money (of course, we’re talking about America)


                and so on.

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        • There’s two things that people mean by “racism”.

          One thing is the whole “racism in your heart” thing. This is what we think of when we think of Bull Connor and The South and The Confederate Flag and Jesse Helms singing Dixie in front of Carol Moseley-Braun.

          The other is “active participant in structural racism”. You don’t need to have anything in your heart at all, for this. You merely need to just be following the short-term incentives laid out before you. This way, you can be an African-American police officer and be put in a situation where your best short-term (or even medium term!) interests involve following orders, listening to your partner, protecting your brothers, and shooting when you are in fear for your life.

          The thing to always watch out for is when the conversation jumps back and forth between the two definitions without notification.

          Pretty sure that that’s happening here.
          If only because it always happens.

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    • how did the Charlotte officer also become racist

      NWA rapped about black cops being worse than white cops in 1988, are we seriously still unclear about this? I’m guessing you’re interpreting “racism” to mean intense hatred of blacks as opposed to just prejudicial behavior based on race. There is absolutely nothing that prevents a black cop from seeing another black person as innately aggressive and therefore more likely to use force. There is, in fact, plenty of social science evidence showing this to be true.

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      • “I’m guessing you’re interpreting “racism” to mean intense hatred of blacks as opposed to just prejudicial behavior based on race.”

        I am, because I do think there is a valid conversation to have between racism and prejudice. IMO Sam believes most/all cops to be racist. That’s a pretty hard thing to fix. But if we simply said most/all cops are prejudice…there’s some hope there. Right?

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        • I think Will’s post – and this whole discussion – makes much more sense if you define “racism” to mean racial bias, that’s certainly the definition I was operating under. There are very few people who think that most police officers are would-be Klan members who have decided to commit their racial violence through the PD. I’m sure there are people who think this, and I’m sure there are actually police officers like this, but it’s not the driving narrative for police reform as far as I am aware. Even in “Fuck Tha Police” (i.e. what fiercely anti-cop rappers were saying 30 years ago) the black cop is engaging in anti-black brutality to prove loyalty to his white partners, not out of some white power scheme.

          The common assumption is that all sorts of direct and in-direct conditioning leads police officers to treat black suspects as a bigger threat than white suspects. Unlike “big R racism” this doesn’t require any mind-reading or moral inference to prove, and has been demonstrated in many areas via social experiments.

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        • I assume you meant to say “prejudiced” instead or racist at the end there?

          I will say that — for reasons both practical and ideological — I make a conscious effort to discuss acts, behaviors, ideas, and mindsets rather than individuals and terms like biased instead of racist. Not 100% of the time and not always will the cal demeanor I aim for, but I make that effort.

          I will say that it has yielded little benefit. Especially relative to the effort. The goalposts keep moving.

          “Stop saying all cops are racist!”
          “Okay. The system is racist.”
          “Stop saying racist!”
          “Okay. The system is prejudiced.”
          “You just mean all cops are racist!”
          “No. I think society indoctrinates all of us to think differently about people based on race (and many other things) and when combined with institutional biases within the police, it encourages thinking and behavior that leads to people of color being treated unjustly. Combine that with other factors encouraging ever-aggressive policing tactics across the board, and we’re seeing way too many people killed by police and a disproportionate use of force — especially fatal force — used against Black men.”
          “So your blaming white people?! AND the cops?!”
          “No! There are so many factors. But we theoretically have the most control over the police AND if we are addressing the specific issue of unarmed Black men being shot, let’s look at that system.”
          “Stop saying all cops are racist!”

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            • The implications of this post are that two areas have had two very ugly incidents, and that those ugly incidents have at least in part informed the response to two more very ugly incidents. Tulsa, obviously, is handling things better than Charlotte.

              But perhaps a better question: do you think the police were wrong to do what they did in any of the four scenarios that I described? And what about that fifth example? Because in our arguments, you seem to very reliably come down on the side of police. Can I safely assume that holds here?

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              • It sounds like the police were definitely at fault in the older examples you gave, however, as always, I’m not going to pass judgement on the recent events until a lot more details are made public. Where you and I consistently diverge is in your willingness to engage in speculation, judgements and pronouncements within hours of one of these shootings.

                Despite claims to the contrary, I’m willing to fault the police when necessary however, I’m just not going to do it until I know more.

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  2. I know that after every shooting, a chorus of white columnists and pundits immediately leap to become advocates for the police and work diligently to justify the shooting.

    But they are missing the larger point, that millions of black people don’t believe it.

    They don’t believe it, not because they read an article somewhere about a shooting (like we white people do).
    No, they disbelieve because of their own personal experience at the hands of white authorities, white people with power, and their experiences with unequal treatment.

    The white advocates aren’t actually stupid, most of them.
    So what makes them think that black people are going to disregard their own lived experience in favor of a strained and contrived explanation of why every single black victim is somehow deserving of being shot?

    Because the target of the argument isn’t black people; its fellow white people who are being urged to stay on the reservation, to stick with the narrative, and keep in line.

    We are being urged to turn our eyes, keep on walking, and not object.

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  3. A handful of things, without which, reform is impossible:

    We need to get rid of the War on Drugs. If we can’t do that, legalize pot.

    We need to get rid of Police Unions.

    The police need to have a set of Rules of Engagement for dealing with civilians that are at least as strict as the military’s. The statement “The Marines oughta be in charge of Charlotte” should be a punchline, not a reasonable statement.

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    • I’m not sure how embedded racism in police culture and American culture generally will be weakened by legal marijuana and nonunion police.

      I mean, somehow the cops never seemed to find reasons for stopping and frisking white New Yorkers, even though white folks use drugs more than black folks.

      And if police are non union, are they suddenly going to start zealously convictingracist shooters?

      I guess its like saying white juries in 1965 Alabama won’t convict Klan members; so the obvious solution is to suspend the Bill of Rights to make convictions easier.

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      • One of the things that happened due to stop and frisk was a huge number of marijuana busts. Once NYC passed a resolution saying “quit busting people for marijuana!”, police started stopping and frisking and then saying “what do you have in your pockets?”, when suspects pulled out a bag, cops arrested them for displaying marijuana. Not possessing it, mind. They weren’t allowed to bust people for possession.

        But they could bust them for displaying it.

        Marijuana is the gateway drug for petty busts allowing petty arrests by petty cops.

        Take this tool away from them.

        I suspect that making it easier to fire police officers would do a good job of getting rid of bad apples.

        But, if you’d like, I’d settle for a standard of behavior more or less equal to that of the Marines. You break a regulation (including those involving racism), then you deal with it the way the Marines would.

        I guess its like saying white juries in 1965 Alabama won’t convict Klan members; so the obvious solution is to suspend the Bill of Rights to make convictions easier.

        You mean like pursuing double jeopardy?

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        • Owning a car is a bustable offense for blacks. Driving while black, parking while black, opening a car too nice for you in the officer’s opinion while black, fixing your car while black…..

          *shrug*. It doesn’t surprise me to see black officers be just as bad. It’s training, you know? We’ve trained police for generations that there are different rules for whites and “everyone else” and encouraged levels of aggressive policing against those “everyone else’s”. (I mean this goes back to the days when Irish weren’t even considered whites).

          Out of sight out of mind, though. Tell cops to take off the gloves against those “thugs” in the “city” (nowhere near you, of course) or against the “wrong element” coming into your quiet town. Nothing you had to see. Nothing you had to witness. Your conscience could be clean.

          Because even if you found out about it, you could say “He had it coming” or “He probably did something bad before anyways” or “I believe the cop” — but the endless parade of video? That’s harder to deny, and the reflexive cop support is getting harder to maintain.

          This crap? This is 200+ years of America using the cops to put the boot to certain people (which people shifts around a bit over time, but the blacks have always been the ‘certain sort’) so they know their place coming into the ugly light.

          Yeah, cops treat blacks differently. Even black cops. Because that’s the police culture we built and nourished. However wonderful cops might be in other areas, we baked an ugly stain right into them that we should really drag out and fix.

          Instead we tie blue ribbons around our trees and speculate on how that kid shouldn’t have had a BB gun.

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          • I agree.

            This is not something that is resolvable by newer, better powerpoint slides being read to officers on a quarterly basis.

            When I try to come up with ways to fix things, there aren’t *THAT* many options that seem achievable.

            “Get rid of police departments” strikes me as being at the close end of “technically possible, not really possible in practice”.

            Maybe police unions belongs near “get rid of police departments” on that scale.

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    • Honest question: is there evidence that busting unions increases public accountability? I thought the Trump endorsement by the FOP (quoted below) shows the union is in self-preservation mode, so I’m totally open to this line of thinking.

      MARTIN: And did you come away with a clear understanding of [Clinton’s] plan and why you find that to be insufficient?

      CANTERBURY: Well, her plan, first of all, was much more of a social engineering plan than Mr. Trump’s. He wants to work on the systemic causes of high crime, and Mrs. Clinton wants to work on police reform. And reform in a profession that doesn’t need to be reformed is not the answer to fight crime. What we need to do is have people that will partner with us in these neighborhoods, help reduce unemployment, get people jobs. Doing a police reform package that she’s been discussing in the campaign is – in our minds, falls way short of a real plan to attack crime.

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      • I’m not sure that “increases public accountability” is what will be accomplished, necessarily.

        It’s more than increasing public accountability is not possible with the union. Getting rid of the union will not increase it… but it’s not going to be increased if we don’t lay groundwork.

        The groundwork includes busting the union.

        I’ve said before, I’ll say again: if the police union was primarily interested in making sure that officer’s pensions were paid, their health care was strong, they got more money in their paycheck, and they got more time off, the people arguing against police unions could be dismissed as libertarian cranks.

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      • Throughout the Kaepernick et al. protests, there have been many questions and calls for the protestors to do something in the communities. You see that same idea echoed here. Why is it the responsibility of the people to improve police-community relations? Like, how can that seriously be anyone’s actual position?

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        • Yeah, totally. I was honestly taken aback by his view that the root cause for unarmed black men getting shot is just black criminality and should be resolved by less black criminality. This is basically a complete abdication of any public accountability whatsoever. It would be like a doctor, when confronted with the fact that black patients get less pain medication than equivalent white patients, arguing that the problem is black people needing medical attention so much. Just madness. But getting back to Jaybird’s point, I think the underlying question is whether the union is upstream or downstream of police culture on this.

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    • I suspect that the War on Drugs is winding down/reform. TNR said this was because of a spike in Heroin use among whites though. The thing about the drug war is that there is still a strong urban v. rural divide. A few weeks ago the NY Times ran an article about how urban DAs were going more for divergent programs and treatment and dismissing offenses but rural DAs were still very strong for lock-em-up policies.

      I suspect marijuana legalization will happen within my lifetime.

      The Union thing strikes me as a stawman but the last paragraph is spot on.

      I think Chip Daniels is right though. The Police attracts a certain kind of person just like being a social worker attracts a certain kind of person and I suspect society/culture at large likes police who do everything to get their man. We did event Dirty Harry after all as a popular fictional character. We have all these movies and TV shows about police getting angry at goody-goody liberals who harp on constitutional procedure and sneer at it as “technicalities.”

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      • I agree that the War on Drugs will probably not exist in 20 years. (Though I had a handful of aging hippies tell me, when I was in my 20s (the 90’s), that they couldn’t believe that pot was still illegal.)

        Letting it wind down naturally will probably have the fewest unintended consequences, but the overwhelming majority of the costs of the WOD are paid by other people. It’s easy for me to say “eh, let it wind down naturally”.

        The Union thing is preventing Police Reform. It’s that simple.

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    • Police shooting civilians is statistically a problem with American police that other industrialized countries don’t have.

      Those other industrialized countries generally criminalize drugs and have police unions. I doubt these two things are the factor that’s causing this police conduct. Perhaps the War on Drugs is the thing, but that’s not a matter pot being illegal, its more likely to be because the War on Drugs concept encouragaes police conduct that results in civilians getting shot.

      If I was to suggest a factor that makes American police different than its peers that results in civilian shootings, I’d point to how American police seem to have a unique culture of fear of dying in the line that causes “officer safety” to be elevated over other considerations.

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      • It’s the WAR part of drug enforcement that is a big chunk of the issue. One thing the feds should do is stop incentivizing police & the DEA from treating everything as a war. Investigate drugs as you would any other non-violent crime, and that mentality will fade.

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        • I’m unsure about this entire thread, if only because I suspect that we went back and studied stats in decades prior to the WOD we’d see similar (or even worse) differences in the way people of different races were treated by law enforcement.

          Not saying that getting rid of the WOD would’t be a good thing. Jus that I don’t understand how getting rid of something that’s a few decades old cures something that predates that thing by centuries.

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          • Pre-WOD, I suspect you had a lot of similar attitudes, perhaps even similar use of force stats, but less killings, because police did not have the back current of fear they have post-WOD.

            Let me shift tack a bit. One of the reasons the military in Iraq & Afghanistan don’t have a near constant drumbeat of troopers killing innocents, despite a much higher degree of danger, is not just tighter ROEs, but also much more in depth training regarding the ROEs and threat identification. Very comprehensive and consistent training, which is reinforced EVERY SINGLE DAY. One thing we know about such training is that it serves to very consistently bypass the panic response. A Marine who is afraid doesn’t suffer the same loss rational thought, because the training takes over, like muscle memory. That’s why the former Marine in WV didn’t kill the guy who was trying to commit suicide by cop, because the training took over and kept a rational thought moving on top of the panic response people have at seeing an unstable man with a gun.

            Now, if we tell police they are at war (with drugs & drug dealers), and equip them as such, and tell them most drugs & dealers are in minority neighborhoods, and constantly emphasize danger over & over & over, it’s not hard to see how they can suffer an undercurrent of fear. Then we fail to provide to them the comprehensive training that will save their lives, and the lives of everyone else.

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    • We don’t need to get rid of police unions, but we do need to constrain them to only getting involved with workplace issues (contract negotiations, management interactions, internal policies, etc.). If it’s an issue that involves a member of the public that is not associated with the police, then the union has no business providing anything but moral support.

      Think about, if a UAW member is involved in an auto accident, the union does not provide legal representation and rally a PR machine to the members defense, so why do we tolerate this from police unions?

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      • The bit about police unions is an assertion that “were it not for this structural element, racists would not have power”.

        Except that in any sort of structural proposal, The People are supposed to get what they want.
        And what they want, oftentimes, is outright injustice, dealt out to an unpopular minority.

        There is no such thing as structural justice.

        No system or structure or constitution or body of case law can deliver justice unless the people operating its levers really want justice to happen.

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      • How would you delimit “moral support”? Because we can be sure that “police unions” believe they are offering moral support. They might admit they are offering more than that in some cases – but what exactly are you saying they cannot do? Pay for attorneys? Make public (as opposed to private) statements of support for officers involved in questionable uses of force? (Hmm, I was going to go on, but to be honest I’m not sure I know what they’re doing beyond that.)

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        • I’d prevent the union from paying for attorneys for any matter that is not clearly a labor issue[1]. I’d also limit them to just making public statements of support for the officer, but that is it. I have no idea why the police union in NC has seen the videos of the shooting before the family or the public. Unions also enforce rules that short circuit the normal investigative process, and have even lobbied for such rules to be law in many states[2], as well as applying political pressure to prosecutors and outside investigators, pressure that would probably get other people arrested for interference or obstruction.

          Basically, if the issue at hand is not a normal labor issue, the union should be expressly limited to PR support.

          [1] If a union wants to establish a fund for the legal defense of officers, that’s fine, but union dues should not directly pay for such services. Officers can donate to the fund on their own as an opt-in.

          [2] I wonder if anyone has attempted to challenge the constitutionality of any of the various “Officer’s Bill of Rights” laws as in violation of equality before the law?

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          • I’m pretty dubious about the constitutionality of a lot of that, other than not allowing the attorneys’ fees be paid out of dues (if it happened I suspect there would be very little problem making the workaround happen), and prohibiting the most extreme cases of pressuring prosecutors. I’m also not sure about what “rules” they enforce that bond investigators. That could probably be cleaned up.

            Ultimately I think this general question is not the main path to a solution, though don’t doubt there are adjustments that are needed. I would be interested in the opinions of a wider range of our regulars on it, though, in particular and .

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              • I did, back when the prosecutions against the cops who killed Freddie Gray in Baltimore were first going through their criminal trials. (They did kill him, which I think is uncontested, the question before the court was, did they murder him.)

                I actually didn’t see much objectionable in the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights — if those same rights were extended to every criminal suspect. How nice that the Constitution’s guarantees of fair play and due process are actually observed for certain kinds of suspects; how much nicer would it be if those guarantees applied to everyone.

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          • Police unions as a generalized proposition probably cannot be prohibited under the Constitution. First Amendment, freedom of association. They can make whatever club they want, and assign whatever importance they wish to amongst themselves. Debatably, membership in a voluntary association should not become de facto mandatory, but in practice the government, and the brass of the department, trying to stop that from happening would be a gave of regulatory whack-a-mole.

            Police unions as a recognized collective bargaining entity probably can be constitutionally permitted, but doing so would be contrary to existing law which dates back to the late 1970’s. (Before the Carter Administration, public employees unions were generally not recognized as the employees’ collective bargaining units; that said, the total compensation package to public servants has been pretty good, even if monetary compensation was not, dating back to about the McKinley Administration.)

            I intellectually treat funds and other similar entities that exist to pay for the legal defense of police officers as voluntary associations, to the extent that this is the sole mission of the entity. So long as that entity is not official, or formally attached to a collective bargaining unit, like this one which I’m familiar with, we’re back to the purely voluntary organization issue: you simply can’t stop people from coming together for a common purpose unless that purpose is illegal, and it’s not illegal to pay someone else’s attorney’s fees (if appropriate disclosures are made to to the attorney’s client).

            If the protective association is part of or formally affiliated with the recognized collective bargaining unit, then my opinion is that either a law, or a provision of the collective bargaining agreement, prohibiting mandatory dues from going to legal defense would be both appropriate and constitutional. That said, it’s impossible to stop non-mandatory dues from being used for that purpose, because people can give their own money to do what they want with it, the same as for efforts to pay for political persuasion, lobbying, or endorsement of candidates for political office.

            Those would have to be voluntary, and the gray area is whether the officially-sanctioned collective bargaining unit has to use a positive check-in to get that money, or it can use a negative check-off to collect that money from its members by default (and whether there’s a de facto penalty for exercising your negative check-off).

            That’s just one lawyer’s opinion, of course.

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            • Thanks

              I’m not opposed to legal support, per se, but rather the way in which that legal support is bound up in the union, and the way in which police get special privileges regarding that legal support when there is a complaint or other non-labor issue.

              I have a concern with how the union wears too many hats in a way that can significantly interfere with the pursuit of justice.

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      • It also seems–and I admit I am going from a very limited understanding–that the union contracts also place a lot of restrictions on criminal investigations following police shootings. It’s not really clear to me why a contract between the department and the cop can (let alone should) dictate how the criminal justice system works when a cop shoots a third party.

        I look forward to having my doubtless profoundly flawed impression torn into tiny pieces by better-informed commenters.

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      • The UAW could provide attorneys. The problem is that cops are subject to discipline based on complaints and they could be forced to spend a lot of money on legal fees defending themselves from ridiculous complaints.

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          • This brings us back to the idea that police officers should be required to carry liability insurance. I like that argument because it seems like the market could sort out a chunk of this problem fairly quickly.

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            • I love this idea and think it’s solid not only because it’ll price bad cops out of the system, but the insurance companies will demand the statistics we’ve been lacking in order to do their actuarial voodoo. I’d also make it illegal for police departments to carry that insurance for officers, they either carry it themselves, or the union does it.

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              • Why are we assuming that it would work in any way other than other group insurance plans (and therefore not be sensitive to individual behavior)?

                Why are we assuming that unions would behave any differently under that regime than under the current regime (where the government acts as an insurer, but bad-actors can be held personally responsible when a high bar is met.

                My bet is this would just create a monopolist’s market (with huge margins) for some insurance company, and ensure that lawyers defending bad cops have only that company’s bottom line (and never the public interest) in mind.

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          • Yes, and a hospital may or may not insure the docs. Even if a doc had insurance a plaintiff may choose to sue the hospital b/c they have deeper pockets. Like suing the city instead of the cop. Sue the employer b/c they have deeper pockets.

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            • Doesn’t matter, if the cop has to carry the insurance, even if he doesn’t get sued, the fact that the officer keeps getting on the wrong end of some manner of sustainable complaint is going to price him out of the profession.

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              • When I suggested that for gun owners, I was told I hated America. Often by people who told me that there were only a few bad apples among gun-owners and I shouldn’t look at the whole bunch with suspicion. (This to a guy who goes out a few years to blow holes in things with his father-in-law, the owner of quite a few guns).

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                • Do you think it would work the same way for gun owners? I believe that the problem with police brutality is that, like most bad behaviors, most of it is committed by a minority of repeat offenders (let’s ignore the enabling side of it for now). That means that if you look in the database of police complaints, there’s a noise floor (everybody has a complaint from some random angry weirdo) above which the questionable players will stand out. Insurance companies will have this information and raise rates on those outliers accordingly.

                  Do individual gun owners exhibit the same pattern of problem behavior that an insurance company would detect before there’s a problem? What metrics would they use? If you have a serious enough criminal record, you may already not be allowed to own a gun, so you probably won’t have insurance. Is there a problematic group of people who are legal gun owners but who an insurance company would clearly be able to hit with rates?

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                  • I’d let actuaries sort it out. There are plenty of gunowners, the vast majority of which never shoot anything other than paper or deer. So you have a rather large pool of people who have minimal risks.

                    Liability coverage shouldn’t cost that much unless you’ve a history of gun accidents. The actual payout risk should be, if anything, less than the personal injury portion of your car insurance. People carry guns a lot less frequently than they drive.

                    Admittedly, because we absolutely refuse to track gun stats in this country, we’re stuck guessing as to the actual costs to gun owners and when they’d become too expensive to afford coverage.

                    I’d be happy funding in-depth studies first to be sure, but I understand studying guns like that is un-American in the extreme. I mean Congress has explicitly blocked it for decades, so clearly it’s an awful thing.

                    I’m happy to let the free market sort out who is too careless to own a gun, because the market is better than Darwin in this case.

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    • “The police need to have a set of Rules of Engagement for dealing with civilians that are at least as strict as the military’s.”

      BLAM BLAM BLAMBLAMBLAMBLAMBLAM BLAMBLAMBLAM

      BLAM

      “Followed the Rules of Engagement, sir. To. The. Letter.

      The issue isn’t that we have rules. We’ve got tons of rules. Rules are, in fact, why the officers keep shooting people who were just standing in the street (or, sometimes, lying down in it) and not going to jail over it.

      What we need is a society that, when a cop says “I didn’t shoot him because he wasn’t a threat”, trusts the officer enough to not assume he meant “…and I knew he wasn’t a threat because he was a white guy.”

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  4. I’ve a bit of a quibble, perhaps because I’m in the trade. Re: State of South Carolina v. Kerrick, our author writes:

    The jury deadlocked and the prosecutors refused to prosecute him again. It has been a year since Kerrick’s behavior was officially sanctioned by the judicial system.

    I don’t think that “officially sanctioned” is a good phrase to describe the result of a botched prosecution, hung jury, and exercise of prosecutorial discretion to not re-try a case where a hung jury again seems the likely result.

    “Official” suggests that there is some sort of imprimatur of governmental blessing or approval by the government of South Carolina, and the only place I can see that case being made is in the prosecutor deciding not to re-try Kerrick. But from where I sit, the prosecutors saying “We don’t think we can get a conviction here,” is not the same thing as “Nope, no crime at all,” and is very far from “Yes, this is actually what we want cops to be doing.”

    “Sanction” suggests someone proclaiming that Kerrick’s shooting of Jonathan Farrell was somehow correct, right, good, or at least blameless. I don’t see that even in the hung jury. Kerrick has thus far gone without criminal punishment, so I can see where again one might come up with a formulation, but lack of punishment does not mean either lack of crime or lack of moral fault. At least some members of the jury voted to convict and at least some members of the jury voted to acquit. I’m not even ready to damn the “not guilty” voting jurors based on the information I see here, because jurors are supposed to take the “reasonable doubt” thing seriously, and I wasn’t in the courtroom to hear a theory of reasonable doubt tested against the evidence. It’d be interesting to know what the vote count of the jury was, too.

    Now, I will say that application of the concept of “reasonable doubt” in a white-cop-kills-black-guy case may very well play out differently than in, say, a black-guy-attacks-white-woman case. And I’ll even go along with saying that the reason “reasonable doubt” gets viewed through a different lens in those different jury rooms does have a lot to do with racial bias, perhaps conscious and perhaps unconscious, and that this is a sobering problem.

    But I don’t see approval of Kerrick’s conduct anywhere in that story. “Official sanction” doesn’t seem right to me. I could more comfortably entertain the phrase “miscarriage of justice,” with the caveat that such a description of the proceedings lends a degree of lensing towards conviction, notwithstanding that I haven’t participated in any of the judicial proceedings, because after all Jonathan Terrell was innocent and helpless and should have received assistance rather than death from a police officer.

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    • A couple of points of order:

      1. We’re talking about North Carolina.

      2. I stripped most of what I considered to be harshly judgmental language out of this post as I worked my way through drafts, but I left “official sanction” in there because the Kerrick was walked free, and when prosecutors had the opportunity to say, “No, this is a bullshit result, this man is a stone cold murderer,” they punted on it and said, “Nah, it’s cool, he only ended a man’s life who hadn’t done anything wrong, no biggie.”

      3. Here I recall the “prosecutions” that supposedly occurred in Baltimore in Freddie Gray case, in which everybody involved in killing a man walked free, because none of them had quite killed Gray enough, or something, even though Gray is dead because of their actions.

      4. The threshold for sending police to jail is so unbelievably high – we can hope that the cop in the Walter Scott execution will rot away in jail, but I’m not holding my breath – that it certainly reeks of “official sanction.” Cop kills a guy and it is justified away. But in the rare cases that it justified away, prosecutors press charges but then barely prosecute the case while the system rallies around the accused to assure everyone that the killing was right. But in the rare cases that prosecutors cannot barely prosecute the case, juries step in to assure everyone that the killing was right. But try to imagine the same outcome if a citizen kills another citizen. Try to imagine the same outcome if a citizen kills police. It is unimaginable in the former, and impossible in the latter.

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      • I scrolled down to comment on the “officially sanctioned by the judicial system” line, and I see Burt already got there before I did. I thought this was just a clever throwaway line, but the response shows that it was backed by a not insignificant amount hyperbole and strawmen.

        Claiming the officers in the Freddie Gray case got off “because none of them had quite killed Gray enough, or something” shows a complete incuriosity about the actual facts of the case. You could have talked about the issue of articulated standards of care for arrestee transport, on which the case hinged, but you didn’t.

        And when you had the chance to clarify what you meant by official sanction, you chose instead to cram words in the mouths of people you don’t know who are trying to make rational decisions based on considerations and fact patterns you’re too woke to bother to learn about or grapple with. “No, this is a bullshit result, this man is a stone cold murderer,” they punted on it and said, “Nah, it’s cool, he only ended a man’s life who hadn’t done anything wrong, no biggie.” You’re not advancing your argument because you’re not making one. You’re just slathering on an attitude that serves your needs.

        Weak, weak sauce.

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        • So you’re say that prosecutors, in refusing to prosecute a killer for a second time, were not giving him sanction? That they went after him as hard as they possibly could, but then chose not to do so a second time? When what this officer had done was execute an injured man?

          As for Freddie Gray – do you think those officers were guilty of having killed him?

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          • So you’re say that prosecutors, in refusing to prosecute a killer for a second time, were not giving him sanction?

            Yes, I’m saying exactly that.

            To claim that not prosecuting any crime is sanctioning it gives sanction to any number of other crimes. Pleading guilty for X to drop charge Y doesn’t give official sanction to doing Y. Getting charges dropped for turning on your co-conspirator doesn’t give official sanction to whatever the co-conspirator did.

            Similarly, the decision not to re-prosecute a case is based on several factors, of which “[abhorrent belief system impugned by opinion writer]” does not rank highly. If they believed that they had the most favorable jury they could and still didn’t meet the standard of proof, what’s the point of tying up resources to try again? Performative outrage? Pushing back the public disappointment about acquittal back a few months?

            As for Freddie Gray, the lazy strawmanning covers up some interesting questions. Were they overcharged on unsustainable charges just so the DA could perform outrage? Did the BPD standards of care that supposedly informed their conduct make sense in real-world applications? You can’t get to the answers of those questions if you meet an outcome you don’t like with “let’s just pretend they said or believed nefarious or dismissive things.”

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            • “As for Freddie Gray, the lazy strawmanning covers up some interesting questions. Were they overcharged on unsustainable charges just so the DA could perform outrage? ”

              See, that’s what I don’t get about so many of these things–the insistence that it be murder, specifically, as opposed to manslaughter. Manslaughter convictions aren’t “getting away” with anything–it’s a felony crime, and you go to prison for it, and it’s on your record for the rest of your life.

              On the other hand, Johannes Mehserle was convicted of manslaughter and people wrecked downtown Oakland anyway, so maybe it does have to be “murder or nothing”.

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              • Serious question: To what degree is this a point you actually believe, and to what degree is this just a debating point?

                In other words, if Sam’s call was to press manslaughter charges for the cases of police of killing blacks, would that be something you would support? Or would there then be additional reasons that this was just liberals being all liberal?

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                • As a liberal, I think I’m the one being all liberal.

                  I am in favor of prosecuting killer cops, and I was in favor of Maryland prosecuting those particular killer cops. In the Freddie Gray case, the State’s Attorney was under a lot of pressure to bring the hammer down. Many believe that in doing so, she brought charges that the fact pattern didn’t support, and lost.

                  You can interpret this three ways:

                  1) Her city very recently aflame, Moseby used her bully pulpit to placate an enraged public without fully considering the difficulty of proving the elements of each charge.

                  2) Independent of public pressure, the State’s Attorney made a tactical error in selecting the charge and/or trying the case.

                  3) Each of the multiple judges and at least one jury was racist (against a black victim, but not black cops) or at least too pro-cop.

                  4) “none of them had quite killed Gray enough, or something.”

                  One of these things is not like the other. One requires no engagement with facts. It’s snark and fury, signifying nothing.

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                  • “Many believe that in doing so, she brought charges that the fact pattern didn’t support, and lost. ”

                    Remember when Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, and got tried for murder, and wasn’t convicted, and everyone lost their minds?

                    Imagine if he’d been tried for manslaughter and gone to jail.

                    Would that have been a less-preferable result?

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                    • Would that have been a less-preferable result?

                      I would have preferred charges that stuck and the resulting punishment. If that’s what it took, then it would have been preferable to charge with manslaughter.

                      I’m also not in favor of charging Zimmerman with violating the Clean Water Act and tampering with the mails just to show how super-duper angry we are with him.

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                      • George Zimmerman was charged with murder and manslaughter as a lesser included charge, and was acquitted of both. I have no idea why the thing that actually happened is being treated like a counter-factual.

                        The proposed solution would have not solved the problem. We know this is true with a high degree of certainty because the proposed solution was tried and did not solve the problem.

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                  • It’s also precisely what happened, even per your own telling of the story. All of them killed him, none of them enough though to be found guilty. But by all means, argue about the presentation.

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                • “To what degree is this a point you actually believe, and to what degree is this just a debating point?”

                  Eat my ass.

                  “[I]f Sam’s call was to press manslaughter charges for the cases of police of killing blacks, would that be something you would support?”

                  Of course I would support it, you utter fool. If you want someone to Go To Jail for what they did, then you need to actually go for a charge where that’s a possibility, and police officers have pretty much got a cloud of reasonable doubt following them around on duty, merely by virtue of their position.

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      • 1) So what

        2) Good because if you’d left the other language in, it would have been even easier to laugh at you than it already was.

        3)Just because you prosecute someone it doesn’t guarnetee a conviction.

        4) Not really. If you have good evidence. NYC officer Lin was convicted as was SC Trooper Sean Groubert. Somehow BLM folks never point to a conviction, I can only wonder why.

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        • 1. Because Burt referenced South Carolina.
          2. Good stuff.
          3. That’s true. And the point.
          4. Probably because it is incredibly rare that police officers are convicted of murder.

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      • Re: North Carolina v. South Carolina.

        Point taken. Don’t think it matters much for the rest of what I had to say. They are different states, and not quite the same in terms of culture, race, race relations, politics, economics, and history … but as compared with, say, California or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, they’re pretty darn similar to each other.

        As for the rest, I said what I had to say in my comment, you responded, we disagree, cheers!

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        • Perhaps a different question then, given our disagreement: is the occurrence of a trial, even one that ends in a very predictable way, enough to satiate portions of the public that believe that policing might be very different for some than it is for others? One implication of these trials is, “Well, we took it too trial, what more can you want?” as if that is necessary satisfying when justice does not end up being done. Note that I am not say that this is your position, but rather what seems to be implied by a justice system that has very little difficultly in getting guilty verdicts against all kinds of other people.

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          • [I]s the occurrence of a trial, even one that ends in a very predictable way, enough to satiate portions of the public that believe that policing might be very different for some than it is for others?

            Well, that’s an interesting question and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to it.

            In 1992, the Los Angeles County District Attorney took an A&B case against four police officers to trial. The jury returned “not guilty” verdicts. Riots broke out almost immediately and lasted for three and a half days; Los Angeles has never been quite the same since. I’m not one to believe in the idea that the racial tensions underlying the riot somehow needed a “vent,” real life is not part of the Purge movie franchise.

            While we can’t know for certain, a part of me wonders if L.A. wouldn’t have been better off if the D.A. had passed on the prosecutions altogether. (Recall also that two out of the four cops were convicted in Federal court of civil rights violations, about a year later, and they served two and a half years.)

            A different part of me hears that argument and says “Come on. The D.A. couldn’t not prosecute. Not that case. Not under those circumstances.”

            Could the D.A. have known in advance that a conviction was unlikely? Yep. As you note, it’s difficult even in these enlightened modern times to secure a guilty verdict against a white cop who does something violent to a black detainee. When you step into the Wayback Machine and go back to the Bad Old Days of the First Bush Administration, I mean, jeez. Darryl Gates was still the Chief of the LAPD, for cryin’ out loud.

            Could the D.A. have known in advance that in the event of a not guilty verdict, there would be civic violence? One tends to think so, although the likelihood of that, without the benefit of hindsight, would be less certain. But “riots would be more likely than not” doesn’t seem like such a big reach. “Riots spinning out of the ability of the police to control” might well have reasonably seemed unlikely, though.

            So if a conviction is unlikely, and the results of a non-conviction are that more people are going to wind up hurt, maybe the interests of justice favor not prosecuting. At least, from a consequentialist-utilitarian perspective, barring some construct about how a riot is a necessary step for the community to go through in order to achieve an end state of greater racial harmony, which actual experience suggests has not happened: race-fueled violence tends to catalyze rather than ameliorate a community’s racial tensions.

            The problem, of course, is selling the “we’re going to defer to the Feds” argument to the community, which is politically a very tricky thing to do. And it requires the U.S. Attorney to say, “Okay, local prosecutors, give us the ball before you run your own play,” which they don’t usually do as a matter of policy.

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            • It is very difficult for me to read this comment without concluding that literally every feedback within this system seems to be: let police do whatever they want to African-American populations. Perhaps that really is what literally every feedback within this system is. So to then balk at when members of those communities object violently to what is a system stacked entirely against them is…well, again, predictable, I suppose. (And again, I’m not confusing your comment as an endorsement of this, but rather, I am reading it as a remarkably grim assessment of precisely how bad our system actually is.)

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              • The Feds seem able to get civil rights convictions, at least a reasonable percentage of the time. So there is some good news here. And that is part of why there is Federal law and a Federal judiciary in the first place: sometimes the state justice systems don’t work so good for certain kinds of cases.

                It’s not great news. The result hinted at is that police officers really do wind up with a separate (and more elite) justice system handle their misdeeds. In other words, everyone is equal before the law, but police officers are more equal than black people.

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            • I think this is just a frustration in being a lawyer among non-lawyers when legal things happen.

              It’s the same problem as the 2008 crisis. For many people, “they screwed up the economy, why aren’t they in jail” makes sense. When you’re talking about criminal fraud, though, A PERSON had to personally satisfy the knowledge, falsity, and other elements. And, in fact, as many of the same people would likely admit, the problem with a lot of the RMBS stuff was that no one knew what the hell they were building and selling.

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              • When you’re talking about criminal fraud, though, A PERSON had to personally satisfy the knowledge, falsity, and other elements.

                Absent a RICO-like statute to make top management criminally responsible for the sort of fraud commonly engaged in by financial institutions Which is why one is needed.

                And I suppose it’s OK with me if said top management forms a union that will pay their bail.

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              • the problem with a lot of the RMBS stuff was that no one knew what the hell they were building and selling.

                That’s just not true. Countrywide explicitly knew (since they were the loan originators and sold them to institutional investors). Goldman Sachs knew when they sold those securities while also shorting the MBS market. AIG didn’t know, and so – of course! – that firm had to take it up the yinyang.

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                • Countrywide ceased to exist and settled the case for $8.5B.

                  Goldman paid $5 B.

                  Another thing worth noting is that even though the ratings and market value of the top tranches dropped (a TON), many of them never missed a rebate payment because of the various safeguards designed in.

                  My point is that it’s hard to send a person to jail for fraud given the applicable standard, just like it’s hard to convict a cop given the applicable standard there. Which is a call for legislating (because I’m a liberal), not complacency.

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                    • I’d actually be interested in knowing more about how Goldman did on RMBS.

                      I can say with 100% certainty that it isn’t as simple as +$8B since I bet they paid out on the RMBS contracts too (and held assets at the lower tranches that ultimately became non-performing write-offs.

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                      • I can say with 100% certainty that it isn’t as simple as +$8B since I bet they paid out on the RMBS contracts too

                        Heh. So you’re 100% certain that there’s a possibility they paid out on those contracts as well?

                        “See how high the seas of language can rise. And at the lowest points, too.”

                        There really is a substantive issue here, one that neither of us can discuss with the level of precision and knowledge required to further the debate (since we don’t know what GS employess and managers know). So I’ll resort to my tried and true response: if bad things occur under the tutelage of a CEO or other Major Playa, then those people ought to be convicted of either knowingly green-lighting those actions or criminal negligence if they didn’t.

                        I mean, what they hell are they being paid to do?*

                        *maximize profits for share-holders, of course.

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                        • I’d be interested in the reasearch. I’m not going to do it on my phone.

                          GS originated RMBS is a cash clearinghouse, where security owners get defined interest in cash receipts. If you’re telling me $0 went out, I’d be surprised.

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                  • My point is that it’s hard to send a person to jail for fraud given the applicable standard

                    OH! I thought you said that “no one knew”, which is actually a different claim than the above quoted one.

                    But maybe we actually agree here and are fighting our way thru communication issues rather than a disagreement about the facts. If so, then all’s good.

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                    • I think there was no one person at a lot of the places that knew enough to go down for fraud.

                      An individual selling mortgages likely knew many borrowers wouldn’t be able to make payments. They certainly didn’t know the securitization process.

                      Likewise, there were many banks that, unlike Goldman, didn’t figure things out and bet against their own products. Those banker certainly knew they were making REALLY easy money, and knew they were negotiating sharply with ratings agencies to get as much AAA as they could. But that isn’t evidence that gets you a criminal fraud conviction.

                      And the ratings agencies were able to point towards performing securities, historical risk models, etc that they probably should have known weren’t right, but used anyway. That, too, is short of the criminal fraud standard.

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          • is the occurrence of a trial, even one that ends in a very predictable way, enough to satiate portions of the public that believe that policing might be very different for some than it is for others?

            The better question might be:
            What needs to happen in order for the people to trust that the justice system is actually producing justice?

            In the Rodney King case mentioned, and a hundred more like it, the justice system sometimes goes through the motions sometimes doesn’t, but consistently favors one group at the expense of another.

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            • “What needs to happen in order for the people to trust that the justice system is actually producing justice?”

              This is a really, really good question, and is actually what the conversation needs to be about.

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                • One really reasonable definition, at least on its face, might be that everybody is being treated in the same way, regardless of their skin color. Now, somebody might come along and say, “A-ha! But what if everybody is being treated equally badly!” and I would agree that bad treatment is not ideal, but at least we’re not subdividing who is on its receiving end by skin color.

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                  • The judicial system like the electoral system, is a lot like the financial system.
                    In that they all seem like such solid and naturally-occurring edifices, that their legitimacy and existence is beyond question.

                    Yet they are actually pretty fragile, relying on faith and consensual agreement.

                    When is an election legitimate, and one we should respect? When is money actually worth something?
                    Why should we accept a court ruling?

                    This is where every citizen becomes a consumer and votes; when the number of votes for illegitimacy reaches some sort of tipping point that’s when we go through the looking glass and weird things start to happen.

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            • There isn’t an easy answer and I doubt the system will ever be perfect unless we get to a point where race is no longer a proxy for a whole bunch of other attitudes and problems.

              In order to try to do some good I think we need to attack it on multiple fronts. Some of that is attacking the deferential treatment police receive under 4th amendment jurisprudence. Some of it is legislative, setting new rules on police accountability and oversight, and changing direction on how we treat socioeconomic problems that effect the black community more than most. Some of it is cultural about how we look at crime and what law enforcement is here to do. None of it is simple or likely to change things overnight, though I think keeping it in the news and bugging political leaders about it is a good start for getting the ball rolling on longer term efforts.

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  5. Last time around, Jaybird made a really good analogy between unarmed shooting victims and hospital “Never Events” – an operational error so significant that even one incident puts accountability into question. Wikipedia provides this suggested protocol for never events:

    1. apologize to the patient
    2. report the event
    3. perform a root cause analysis
    4. waive costs directly related to the event

    Importantly, (1) the patient is treated as a victim until the investigation is concluded; (2) information about the event is rigorously reported (no “Sure, drive yourself back to the station and clean yourself of evidence Officer Wilson”); and (3) the purpose of the investigation is accountability and reform. Adopting something close this policy would go a long way to demonstrating good faith.

    Note also the kinds of things that hospitals never do that are common for police management: leaking private information on the victim to discredit their story; openly trying to shape “the narrative” before the investigation has even started; withholding information from the public unless it is exculpatory; justifying obvious malpractice by saying the doctor was “under a lot of stress” or “just doing the best they could in a tough situation”; etc. etc. They way that you treat your “never events” tells us a lot about how you view your relationship with the public in general.

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    • There are legit mistakes that people can make. I’d cheerfully accept the premise that there are more categories than “good shoots” and “never events”. There can be “bad shoots”.

      But the response of the police to “never events” is to treat them as if they were good shoots gone juuuust a little bit wrong.

      There is no reason to trust them.

      THIS IS VERY BAD FOR A SOCIETY WITH A POLICE FORCE.

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      • I’m sure there are hospital Never events that turn out to be justified too, people are people and some patients are going to commit fraud/malice. Note that restitution is last on that list – it’s not like they just pay out everyone who makes a claim. The point is that the medical industry has chosen to prioritize accountability at the cost of self-preservation, and the police industry has not. The estimates for Never events are 1,500/year; the estimates for *all* fatal police shootings are 1,000/year. By the numbers, It is entirely doable for the police to treat fatal shootings of unarmed victims (and maybe some armed victim edge cases) as Never events, it’s just a matter of will.

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        • Never events happen. Which is why they’re a category people think about.

          I think the point is that hospitals can’t just say “well, it only happens sometimes so how dare you criticize us for this event.” Instead they say, we really effed up by leaving that stuff in your body during surgery. We’ll get it out ASAP and then haggle over exactly how much damages to pay.

          Police, by contrast, say “cops are good people doing a hard job, so how dare you conclude it is ever done badly or suggest that there should ever be consequences for killing people.”

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  6. Update For Those Wondering:

    Police in Charlotte are showing the video to the family, are acknowledging that the video does not show Keith Lamont Scott pointing a gun at police, and are refusing to release the video to the public.

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  7. I’m going to go in a weird direction.

    One of the videos shows an Officer racing to the scene. When he stops the car, it seems he is listening to heavy metal music (perhaps Metallica). Maybe Chris or someone else can weigh in, but I’m pretty sure that music can effect mood and mood can effect behavior. I imagine that heavy metal music might get adrenaline flowing and possibly encourage more aggressive behavior. If so, I wonder if it is appropriate for a cop to be listening to music. In fact, why do cops even have radios in the car? It seems like it would serve as nothing but a distraction. I struggle to see the purpose of them and if, indeed, they can contribute to higher adrenaline, higher anxiety, more aggressive behavior, we’d be well-served to eliminate their influence.

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  8. Keith Lamont Scott: Regardless of open carry, open carry is NOT walking around or standing around with a gun in your hand. It’s holstered. Gun in hand is very very close, if not exactly, brandishing. Failure to drop a weapon in your hand at police command is an action very very likely (like 99%) to get you shot.

    Nothing said above should be an endorsement of the cops, who seem to kill a lot more folks than actually necessary.

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  9. I suppose this won’t change much until there is a trial. But it is something.

    At a news conference, the Tulsa County district attorney, Steve Kunzweiler, said the officer, Betty Shelby, who is white, was charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of Terence Crutcher, 40.

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  10. That Vox article doesn’t say what Wilkinson implies it does. Blacks are way more likely to commit crimes than whites, and way more likely to be arrested.

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      • There was a lot of talk in conservative circles about a recent Harvard study that showed blacks stopped by police are slightly less likely to be shot at then whites:

        http://www.nationalreview.com/article/437863/police-shootings-black-men-are-not-being-executed-everyday-activities

        less reported was the fact that the study also showed that blacks were significantly (and substantially) more likely to have nonlethal force used against them. This seemingly contradictory result would be entirely consistent with a model where more innocent blacks are stopped by police, they are more likely to be harassed physically, but because they tend to be innocent the harassment is less likely to escalate to shooting. This is consistent with what was found by the DOJ in Ferguson, where blacks were more likely to be stopped but less likely to have contraband than whites. Moreover, if the relative rate of stops for blacks is much higher[*] – as many studies have shown – then slightly fewer shootings-per-stop would actually correspond to a much higher number of shootings-per-person.

        [*] In all instances I’m talking about analyses that have been adjusted for socioeconomic factors and particulars of the stop.

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      • From the data available for murderers and murder victims, it seems improbable that whites commit nearly as many of those crimes as blacks. As Vox says, the data can be milked only so much for information. A claim may be unprovable but supported by reason and available evidence. I mean, the reported number of cross-race murders is very small. Most murders are within races. And the murder rate among blacks is 5x that of whites.

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          • Very small. I figured it’d be worth mentioning because it serves as a cross-check: both the percentage of arrests for murder and the percentage of victims (which, since most murders are within a racial group, should track similarly) are higher for blacks.

            But if you’d rather skip murder, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations, and blacks are 2.5x more likely to be arrested for rape, 7.6x for robbery, 3x for aggravated assault, 3x for forgery and counterfeiting…the only crime that whites get arrested for more often than blacks is DUI. (We’re also pretty close on liquor law violations). Again, these are arrest rates, not crime rates, and they don’t have the benefit of cross-checking by victim’s race. I could dig up some data on that, but truthfully, we can see where this is going, can’t we?

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              • On the other hand, aggravated assault is also a tricky stat because there’s room to fudge the numbers, which the people collecting the numbers often have an incentive to do. There’s rarely much room for debate over whether the victim is still alive.

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            • We also know that black children are more likely to be punished, and more likely to be punished more severely, than white children, for exactly the same offenses.

              We also know that white people consume more drugs and yet get arrested for drug offenses less often than blacks.

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              • >>We also know that white people consume more drugs and yet get arrested for drug offenses less often than blacks.

                Here’s a question I’ve been pondering: Some of the racial disparity on drug use vs. arrest can be explained by socioeconomics – blacks are generally poorer and therefore use/obtain drugs in open areas, whites are more likely to use/obtain drugs in private areas. It is easier for police to identify and confirm drug use/sale in open areas. etc. etc. So let’s say you have 100 cops at your disposal in an ethnically diverse city. You can direct them to predominantly poor (minority) communities where they will arrest 100 drug dealers. Or you can direct them to predominantly wealthy (white) communities where they will arrest 10 drug dealers (because of the additional resources required for busts in private areas). Or you can direct them based on population density (let’s say it’s equal between the two communities so you send half of the officers to one and half to the other) where they will arrest 50 + 5 drug dealers. Which justice system is the most just?

                EDITED: Of course, you can also optimize the outcome balance by directing 91 officers to the wealthy community and 9 officers to the poor community so they make 9.1 + 9 arrests.

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                • We can game statistics to make whatever moral judgments we want to make.
                  Because that’s what’s going on here; aggregated statistics are being used to demonstrate the moral inferiority of black people, and justify the treatment they receive from police.

                  Causality and correlation, mitigating factors, reporting variances…In order to produce the moral just-so story people are looking for, all these factors have to be tweaked and dampened or amplified.

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                  • I didn’t mean this as a trick question about statistics, I meant it as a serious question about how you think our justice system *should* function. Should justice be about (a) minimizing crime; (b) race-neutral exposure to the law; or (c) race-neutral legal outcomes? We can remove the racial element entirely and ask a similar question about the IRS: should they be auditing the rich to maximize revenue, or auditing all incomes equally to maximize equal treatment, or auditing in such numbers that poor people are as likely to suffer forfeiture as the wealthy (maximizing outcome).

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                    • “I didn’t mean this as a trick question about statistics, I meant it as a serious question about how you think our justice system *should* function.”

                      Daniels’s contention, I think, is that there are equal numbers of drug dealers everywhere and the only reason 100 cops in a white neighborhood don’t arrest 100 drug dealers is that cops are racists who won’t arrest white people.

                      …or that they’re racists who will arrest black people. It isn’t necessarily the case that there were 100 drug dealers in the black neighborhood; maybe there were just 100 cops who figured that all black people are guilty of something so just arrest 100 people and say afterward that they were drug dealers.

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                  • I hope you don’t think that I’m using aggregated statistics to demonstrate the moral inferiority of black people, for any purpose. I’m responding to the OA’s implication that there wouldn’t be any reason but racism for more black people to be killed during arrests. Wilkinson introduced an accusation of racism based on incidents that can be explained without it.

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                    • Why were Crutcher and Scott treated differently than William Ray then? What is the “it isn’t because of the color of their skin” explanation that justifies an armed white man shooting at police being taken alive, and that simultaneously justifies the murder of two black men who were absolutely not shooting at police?

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                      • Why did three different cherry-picked situations involving different people play out the way they did? If those were the only three arrests in the past 3 years, there would be reason for comparing them. But you chose those specific examples to tell a story. At the end of the anecdotes, you declared that black people are targeted more than white people, a statement you declared to be indisputable fact. I think it’s rather disputable. Nothing in the narrative you presented justifies a declaration that race is the determining factor.

                        There are three things I can say with confidence, things which I consider to be obvious: (1) that there is ideal number of black people who should be killed by police every year, (2) that, while such a formulation is accurate, anyone who actually thinks in terms of that formulation is pretty seriously messed up, and (3) that this article was written from the perspective of that very formulation.

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              • I’ve heard that, but I’ve never seen the numbers. So I just looked up a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the pattern was generally that whites were more likely to report having used drugs in their lifetime, but blacks were more likely to report having used drugs in the past year or past month. Whites sure do like trying cocaine, though.

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              • How so? I mean, we’re written down a list of things that we consider crimes, and they’re the things we generally enforce as crimes, so what benefit is there in fogging up the definition of “crime”?

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                  • First of all, I’m not sure that the direction we’ve gone even relates to the original conversation. Secondly, the “rules” include things like Thou Shalt Not Steal, so it isn’t like a few whites just made them up. There is no cadre of law-writers, much less a race/class of law-writers, when we’re talking about nearly universally-held principles. Lastly and most irrelevantly, anyone who’s spent time around actual law-writers knows that they’re terrible at following their own rules.

                    Back to what I think we were talking about: blacks are much more frequently arrested for serious crimes, so it seems reasonable to me that they’d have a much greater likelihood of incidents during arrests. All indications are that blacks commit serious crimes at a much higher rate than whites, so it seems reasonable that they’d be arrested for them much more often.

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      • @kazzy: I pointed out the NCVS data in that other thread, so I’m not sure why you’re continuing to make this claim.

        Anyway, if we’re going to go with this kind of aggressive agnosticism about the demographics of crime, why are we focusing on the relatively small racial skew in police killings while ignoring the much larger sex-based skew? Black people are killed by police at about three times the rate white people are, but men are killed at about twenty times the rate women are. White men are killed by police at several times the rate black women are. And if we can’t trust the data, then we can’t really be sure that men commit more crime than women. So why are we ignoring the institutional sexism that results in men being killed by police at 20 times the rate women are?

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        • >>So why are we ignoring the institutional sexism that results in men being killed by police at 20 times the rate women are?

          (1) Because we’ve had several centuries of government sanctioned oppression of blacks by the police, and we have not had nearly the same kind of persecution of men. So there is an actual historic mechanism by which the institutional racism would happen.

          (2) Because the alternative explanations – biological differences in aggressive behavior and physical threat – are much more established for sex than they are for melanin.

          (3) Because self-reported confidence in the police is about equal for men vs. women with no trend, but is about half for blacks vs. whites ( http://www.gallup.com/poll/183704/confidence-police-lowest-years.aspx ).

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  11. Another thing that somehow needs to happen…

    Let’s say that there’s some horrible thing that happens and the cops have to pay a settlement.
    Where does that money come from?

    Somewhere else.

    That’s a changeable incentive.

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    • Removing indemnity is a big lift, so while it is changeable, I wouldn’t give up breathing or sex waiting for it to happen.

      I would like it if payouts for bad behavior came out of some fund the officers had to contribute to (like, say, their pension fund), so they would have a powerful incentive to keep each other in line.

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        • “If you’re in a bad shoot, you’ll never work in law enforcement again.”

          If the only way to be sure that a cop stops being a cop forever is a criminal conviction, it’s a real problem, because it effectively makes “continuing to be a cop” a fundamental right.

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          • Which brings me back to the whole “bust up the police union!” point but I’ve hammered that already.

            If we’re just looking at a camel’s nose, what is achievable to the point where even the most pro-Police “I don’t mind that they call us civilians instead of citizens” types will agree that it’s a reform that ought to be implemented?

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            • I think busting up–or weakening–the police unions would be a pre-requisite, but it’s not the whole story. One issue is that just because a cop gets fired for being terrible doesn’t mean they won’t be rehired elsewhere. That’s a big part of why Tamir Rice was murdered.

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    • Yeah the cop sounds like he deserves to be future long term inmate. However bail is a right all the accused have. We shouldn’t’ really be dissing it if we want to help poor people who very much need to use that right. So union put up the bucks, that seems irrelevant. I get that cops unions are a problem, but going off on good rights because cop unions use them doesn’t seem productive.

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        • I think the innocent until proven guilty thing is important. Gosh knows cops don’t believe it but it doesn’t help in general to toss that out when it applies to cops. The cop sounds guilty to me but , as of now, he is innocent. Put him on trial and convict him. Until then everybody should get the basic rights we have. If anything this should used as an example to cop defenders of why we all deserve those rights. Screw there special bill of rights, they want bail and to be treated as innocent until proven guilty well this is what it looks like.

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          • I don’t really mind that he got bail, I mind that the police union is paying it for him. I’m not in a union now, but back when I was, if I’d been charged with murder, I’m pretty sure my union wouldn’t have sprung me.

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            • They should have, if your job made you prone to being accused of murder. Aren’t unions supposed to protect their members from job-related risks? Whatever happened in this case, you’ve got to admit that having a job that sometimes requires you to shoot people is going to leave you more prone to accusations of murder.

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                  • The DA filing charges means it is something that can’t be explained away as just ‘part of the job’. If a cop is doing their job correctly, the risk of being accused of murder by the very organs of the state the officer works for should be so vanishingly small as to be a non-issue.

                    That said, as I said before, it may be the case that the union is contractually obligated to pay the bail of any officer who is arrested, so I wouldn’t necessarily read anything into this particular act (the wisdom of a labor organization getting involved in criminal justice affairs is a separate discussion).

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    • ““The video does not give me absolute, definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun,” he said on Thursday.”

      Sadly, it doesn’t seem like that matters. All that seems to matter is that the officers *thought* he was pointing a gun at them… Even if he was really “pointing” a book at the ground… Or a wallet at the sky… Or a pellet gun at the no one in particular… Or nothing at anyone.

      Between “stand your ground” (Can a cop invoke SYG? Feels like that is sorta their whole defense many times…) and precedent, facts don’t seem to matter.

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  12. The decision is a reversal by the city government, whose leaders previously contended that disclosing the recordings so soon after the shooting could undermine a criminal inquiry by the State Bureau of Investigation.

    Hmmm. That doesn’t make a lick of sense.

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    • Why do we owe police the burden of believing their story

      Interesting slip of the tongue. But in reality, I’m sure it is a burden on them. I mean, they have to keep coming up with “believable” accounts justifying what would otherwise be clearly viewed as “excessive use of force”.

      Maybe all of us – cops and citizens alike – would be better off if we removed that burden from them.

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          • So the cops get the benefit of the doubt when they shoot and kill someone but the people they shoot and kill don’t get the benefit of the doubt that maybe they aren’t threats?

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                • Maybe, depends on the intent or it could just be an honest mistake. We aren’t all perfect and all knowing like you.

                  Ask me the same question again and I’ll give you the same answer.

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                                      • Except the jury wasn’t required to make an affirmative finding that the killing was justified.

                                        Of course they’re not. Innocent until proven guilty.

                                        This is the justice system we have not your fantasy one.

                                        I’m not the one who, in response to

                                        That doesn’t add up to justification for a killing.

                                        said:

                                        According to the jury who heard the evidence it did.

                                        So, it’s not me who’s fantasizing about what a not guilty finding means.

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                                      • Is that actually true?

                                        Here’s how I understand it…

                                        1. No one denied Zimmerman killed Martin.
                                        2. Zimmerman’s defense was that the killing was justified.
                                        3. The prosecution’s case was that it wasn’t.
                                        4. The jury ruled not guilty.
                                        5. This means the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable about that the killing wasn’t justified.
                                        6. That does not necessarily mean that the killing was justified.

                                        6 seems to be the point of contention. But IANAL so maybe other points are wrong or my interpretation of 6 is wrong.

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                                        • Is that actually true?

                                          I don’t know about “true” (what does that even mean?), but functionally it’s how the law works. It’s binary: you’re either found guilty or you aren’t.

                                          Adding: 6. That does not necessarily mean that the killing was justified.

                                          Yes it does. If it wasn’t justified then the jury decision would be that Z was guilty.

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                                          • I guess that is what I’m trying to understand.

                                            When an affirmative defense is made (i.e., “This killing was justified.”) is the jury tasked with…

                                            A) Determining beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was NOT justified.
                                            B) Determining beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was justified.

                                            If it is A, than it is possible they return a not guilty verdict and say, “We just don’t know if this was justified or not. As such, we must vote not guilty.”

                                            But I really don’t know what the instructions to the jury are and how that whole part of it works.

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                                            • Reasonable doubt is an epistemic notion, relating to what people know. So I suppose that since no one ever knows everything it’s always possible to say that “reasonable doubt” is a function of the information ideally available rather than an application of the law given the information presented.

                                              Given that, I dunno how you decide those issues. What you’re talking about strikes me as an academic point about the limits of our understanding rather than the functional application of law.

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                                              • Maybe what you said went over my head, but I’m trying to understand (not state!) the inverse…

                                                If we asked “the legal system” whether Zimmerman was justified in shooting Martin, would it look at the verdict and say, “Yes, he was justified,” or, “We don’t know.”

                                                ETA: But we do know that, legally, he wasn’t found to be not justified.

                                                Also, I’m not trying to re-adjudicate the Zimmerman trial. Really, I’m trying to parse what it means to be found not guilty when making an affirmative defense. What did the court/jury actually decide.

                                                I really don’t know. In part because my (NOT A LAWYER) understanding is that a not guilty verdict covers both of those possibilities.

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                                                • But now you’re in meta land, asking people to judge the decision of the jury and judge. Hell, we can do that all day.

                                                  My point is that given that Z was identified as the killer, and given that Z was engaging in X, Y, and Z prior to the killing, did the judgment that he was innocent amount to the claim that he was justified in killing Trayvon. And according to the law he was.

                                                  Maybe you disagree with the law on this issue?

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                                                  • I’m really not though. I’m not asking what you or I think. I’m asking what “the court”… the judge, jurors, law, precedent, whatever… “thinks”.

                                                    Again, if we asked “the court” whether Zimmerman was legally justified in killing Martin, would “the court’s” answer be, “Yes” or “We don’t know”?

                                                    I can’t disagree with the law because I don’t know the law. Now, if what you are saying is the law, so be it. But I don’t get the sense that you are coming from the perspective of actually saying what the law says but rather your layman, common sense interpretation of the law (which I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with either). If I’m wrong there, correct me and I will quickly stand corrected.

                                                    My understanding is that juries can either find “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”… they can’t ever find “Innocent”. And that sort of matters.

                                                    So, legally speaking, was the jury’s decision: “Justified”, “We don’t know”, or “Not unjustified”? We know that it wasn’t “Unjustified”.

                                                    It’d be wrong for OJ Simpson to say, “I was found innocent.” (Even if we leave aside the civil case.) Would it be similarly wrong for Zimmerman to say, “I was found to be justified in shooting/killing Martin”?

                                                    ETA: I see now you refer to Zimmerman being found “innocent”. Which means one of us is confused on that term as a legal one.

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                                                    • But I don’t get the sense that you are coming from the perspective of actually saying what the law says but rather your layman, common sense interpretation of the law (which I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with either). If I’m wrong there, correct me and I will quickly stand corrected.

                                                      No, I’m saying what the law says. Even without SYG laws, Florida self-defense statutes are pretty robust and clearly support the claim that Z had prima facie a right to kill Trayvon and, given the evidence, was justified in doing so.

                                                      If you’re asking me whether I’d like to see a change in the laws, then the answer is “yes”.

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                                                    • I see now you refer to Zimmerman being found “innocent”. Which means one of us is confused on that term as a legal one.

                                                      Innocent means being found not guilty and therefore not subject to punishment by … (I hate to say this…) … the state.

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                                                      • “Innocent means being found not guilty…”

                                                        But I don’t think that is what “not guilty” actually means.

                                                        The court didn’t find that OJ Simpson definitely didn’t kill Nicole and Ron. They didn’t find him innocent. They found him not guilty. They found that the state failed to prove that he did.

                                                        My understanding is…
                                                        Innocent = You definitely didn’t do it
                                                        Guilty = We believe that you did it
                                                        Not Guilty = We don’t believe that you did it because the people charged with making us believe that didn’t make us believe that.

                                                        There is an important difference between “Innocent” and “Not Guilty” in that context.

                                                        Think of it this way…

                                                        “The state charges Mr. Stillwater with having blue hair.”
                                                        “On the charge of having blue hair, the state finds Mr. Stillwater not guilty.”
                                                        This does not mean that the court found Mr. Stillwater to have red hair. Or green or purple hair. Only that the state didn’t prove he has blue hair. The court made no ruling on the color of Mr. Stillwater’s hair beyond determining that the state failed to prove that he has blue hair.

                                                        We probably need a lawyer to weigh in at this point.

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                                                        • But I don’t think that is what “not guilty” actually means.

                                                          What does it mean then? Possibly guilty but not provable under the law as currently understood? Quite likely guilty except for a lack of evidence?

                                                          Look, OJ killed Ron and Nicole. He wasn’t found guilty in the criminal case. He was, in fact, found innocent.

                                                          I don’t know what the problem is here, actually. The law doesn’t follow our commensensical notions about these issues for a very good reason: those notions aren’t precise enough to carry the burden of incarcerating people.

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                                                          • Thinking about this some more, I’m even more perplexed. It doesn’t strike me as either incoherent or as an abuse of the English language to say that OJ killed Ron and Nicole and was found innocent on charges of murder. I mean, that just seems to me a perfectly understandable sentence in the English language.

                                                            So it makes me wonder if you’re not using the terms “innocent” and “not guilty” (and so on) ambiguously. Surely it’s incoherent to say that OJ killed Ron and Nicole but didn’t kill Ron and Nicole. But no one has ever (to my knowledge) said that. What they say is that OJ killed R and N and was found innocent on the charge of killing R and N.

                                                            Maybe the issue is that colloquial English and Legalese are actually two different languages.

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                                                            • “Maybe the issue is that colloquial English and Legalese are actually two different languages.”

                                                              This is exactly what I mean. Which is why I kept saying I wonder what “THE COURT” would say about all of this.

                                                              “Not guilty” and “innocent” mean very different things to THE COURT… even if colloquially they are interchangeable.

                                                              Some half-assed Googling…

                                                              “Possible verdicts in criminal cases are “guilty” or “not guilty.””

                                                              Innocent simply isn’t a legal term… at least not insofar as jury verdicts are concerned.

                                                              This I was/am reasonably confident on. How affirmative defenses factor in is where I’m getting tripped up.

                                                              Did the jury say, “We find you not guilty because we believe the killing was justified”?
                                                              Or did the jury say, “We find you not guilty because you submitted an affirmative defense and the prosecution didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were still guilty”?

                                                              My hunch is the former which would mean I ultimately agree with you but I really don’t know. Hence my questioning.

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                                                              • Functionally, a jury makes a judgment regarding specific charges in a case, and insofar as the verdict regarding those charges is “not guilty”, the distinction is irrelevant. Ie., they’re not pronouncing a judgment on the totality of the facts or the circumstances of the case, just the merits of the evidence as it relates to a specific charge under dispute. To say that a person is not guilty of a charge is equivalent to saying they’re innocent of that charge.

                                                                Here’s Black’s definition of “innocent”: “free from guilt”.

                                                                But the nature of a jury trial (well, any trial in the US, theoretically) is that they make a determination regarding the prosecution’s case, one which requires that they agree with the argument establishing guilt. Hence the locution and legally sufficient claim of “not guilty”.

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                  • >>Maybe, depends on the intent or it could just be an honest mistake.

                    Wait, WHAT?! In what universe is *leaking* a photo to the press and saying “here’s the gun we found” an honest mistake? Why are you even bothering to come up with explanations anymore, just admit that “when the police do it it’s not illegal” and we can all go home.

                    Are the police investigating the leak? Have they even issued a statement assuring the public that they will prevent any future evidence tampering, and explaining how they’re going to do it? Because if not, there’s your double standard, and we haven’t even gotten to the details of the case itself.

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                  • Are all those investigations merely a sham?

                    Yes, for the most part. And not necessarily because actors within the system are “rigging” it for the cops (tho that happens all the time). It’s that in our current system the burden of proof required to convict is almost impossible to attain. So the investigations are for the most part pro forma given that the outcome is largely pre-determined.

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                  • Thinking about that some more, I have to concede your point that NOT ALL investigations are a sham.

                    Some are necessary to determine the value, measured in US American Greenbacks, of settling outa court rather than convicting a bad cop

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