Posts Tagged ‘crime’

Here’s one of many, many available stories of someone the US government really, really wanted to murder. He was 17, and ended up on death row.

He was pretty clearly innocent, and it’s hard to imagine the gross extent of the incompetence and misconduct responsible for letting the case go as far as it did. Which is a great place to hang the argument against capital punishment: the system is completely unreliable, as evidenced by the fact that the government were preparing to execute a teenager, despite flimsy details like prosecutors knowingly lying about the evidence and airtight alibis being bizarrely ignored and the clear unreliability of witnesses being suppressed.

So we really can’t be sure innocent people won’t be killed unless we just stop killing everyone. The Innocence Project has counted 330 exonerations of convicted criminals in the last 25 years, through DNA testing, including some who were days away from being put to death. How many others weren’t caught in time?

All that’s still a good argument to make. But this is a reminder, to me as much as to anyone else, that I’d oppose the death penalty even if somehow those objections were utterly resolved.

The problems in any one particular case, with dishonest prosecutors and unreliable witnesses and so forth, are all basically moot. The end result was, you killed someone, or you were going to. I’m not okay with that, and it doesn’t really matter how you got there. No human system of establishing guilt will ever be reliable enough that it deserves to be granted that much trust – but even if it somehow were, let’s still not murder each other over it.

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“The FBI encouraged and sometimes even paid Muslims to commit terrorist acts during numerous sting operations after the 9/11 attacks,” begins an article which gets no less fucking appalling as you read on.

Not for the first time, and to the surprise of nobody who’s paying attention, the FBI are exacerbating and assisting violent and destructive extremism, under the guise of fighting some sort of ideological war against it.

And, as is also frighteningly common, it’s not hard to imagine how few people need to be actually evil for it to get like this. The way their incentives were set up, it just made sense at the time for everyone to behave in destructive, damaging, hurtful ways. In which sense the feds in question really aren’t very different from the fanatics against whom they claim to stand in opposition.

I wonder what it takes to allow this sort of structured and systematised monstrousness to come into being under your watch. Whether it requires a special kind of incompetence or malice somewhere near the top of the chain, or whether this is just how things will inevitably turn out for any society that fetishises law enforcement as much as the modern USA.

When society has decided that an entrenched institution of authority must be respected, and revered, and paid homage to, because of its position at the top of the hierarchy, rather than continuously scrutinized, criticised, satirised, and questioned, in an effort to counteract the further concentration of power lest said power be deployed against us – maybe you don’t need to add outright evil or incompetence to the mix to end up with an organisation indistinguishable from terrorists.

Fuck the police. Fuck the feds. And no apologies for picking a title for this post which would fit better on some hipster douchebag pseudo-rebel’s t-shirt.

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So this guy’s convicted for his involvement in an armed robbery when he’s like 23. Sentenced to thirteen years, which the system expects him to sit out mostly inside a small cage in a secure building somewhere with lots of other people convicted of similar crimes. While he’s appealing the conviction, he’s bailed and gets to go back home, to wait and see if they’re going to come get him and put him in that cage until he’s 36.

By some bizarre quirk of admin, he slips through a crack. These cogs of the bureaucratic machine over here get the wrong idea about what those gears over there are doing, and vice versa. Nobody comes to take this guy to jail. Nobody tells him he’s off the hook, either, because he’s not, but a clerical error means it never becomes anybody’s job to take him to prison.

Thirteen years go by. This guy starts to relax a little, never completely, just a little. Starts to think maybe they’re not going to come for him. He gets married, has four children, learns a trade, starts a business, builds a house for himself and his family. He’s a guy in his mid-thirties now, living a decent, unremarkable, commendable life. Insofar as he was ever a renegade tearaway in his early twenties, he’s a reformed character. A model citizen.

Then a piece of paper or a spreadsheet somewhere comes along, tells a bemused clerk in an office that it’s time to release this guy from prison, where (so the system understands) he’s been quietly serving a thirteen-year sentence.

After some confusion, the local police department realise they’ve got a rather overdue errand to run. They turn up at this guy’s house, and take him to jail.

He was allowed to phone his mother-in-law first, so that his two-year-old daughter wouldn’t be left alone in the house.

Some people are suggesting that this is all pretty fucked up. That whatever administrative cock-ups might have been made in the past, nothing is served by following through on this rigmarole to the bitter end of the dotted line now, and punishing a man who’s worlds away from the person who, back in the 90s, may have let someone borrow his car who then committed a crime – let alone depriving a mother and four children of their husband and father.

I guess if you’re the sort of communist who refuses to venerate the blindly consistent following of arbitrary rules regardless of the individual circumstances, and places greater value on distracting and confusing concepts like humanity and compassion, I can see how you might think like that. But if you don’t want jobsworths robotically enforcing whatever’s written down in black and white, allowing lists of checkboxes to define the way the world is, then what do you think the whole criminal justice system is even for?

I guess the point of prisons, besides keeping criminals locked up where they can’t keep hurting the rest of us, is to serve as a deterrent. Leaving aside whether or not this works even slightly, the idea is that people will be persuaded not to commit crimes because they don’t want to be locked in a cage – but for those people who do nevertheless live their lives in a way that society has deemed unacceptable, presumably something similar is supposed to happen to them. Unless you run a private prison, you don’t want former convicts to commit more crimes and have to be locked in a cage again. They’re meant to be put off that experience, and steer clear of a life of crime in the future. They’re meant to be shaped into better people, who do productive and valuable things, like raise children, learn a trade, start a business, build a house. You know. Model citizens.

Is prison meant to turn Cornealious Anderson into a model citizen? Is it meant to instil in him a respect for authority, a fear of punishment by the system, which will keep him on the straight and narrow in future? Is the life he’s been building and living for the past decade insufficiently virtuous, and is putting him in prison while his children grow up going to improve it?

Of course, even if locking this guy in a cage almost until he’s 50 does no actual good to anybody, and only damages and destroys relationships and things that currently exist, and rectifies nothing that happened in the past – even then, we should probably lock this guy up. If we just let him get on with his productive, valuable life as a husband and father, it might set a precedent. Other criminals might end up going free, instead of serving their time – and we’ve seen what kind of nightmares ensue when we let that happen. Precedents are important.

Cornealious Anderson is currently sitting in jail. Here’s hoping this convicted criminal fails in his latest appeal, and can finally be brought to justice. Because some principles are just too important too abandon, even when they make literally everybody worse off.

(h/t This American Life)

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If you’re in favour of the continued criminalisation of drugs, and you support law enforcement’s efforts to punish those people you’re defining as criminals, be aware of something.

People are doing what you want, in your name, on your mission, in a way that is cruel, unconscionable, vicious, and should make you feel ill.

A New Mexico woman claims she suffered for weeks after a Bernalillo County corrections officer strip-searched her and sprayed mace in her vagina.

Sadism” is exactly the right word, in fact.

This isn’t an unfortunate side effect of a necessary policy. This isn’t a tragic but unavoidable consequence of a general strategy which it’s important we maintain. And this sure as fuck isn’t an isolated incident.

This is just abuse. There’s not even a morally commendable goal being worked towards in unpalatable ways. If anything’s evil, this is.

Now, if you support drug criminalisation policies, you didn’t do this. You haven’t assaulted anyone. You didn’t ask for any police officers to sexually assault anyone on your behalf.

But you really should look into some ways of supporting the policies you want to see enacted, which won’t tacitly endorse the whimsical torture of the innocent.

Classroom discussion questions

1. Is it conceivable, even in theory, that a “war on drugs” might be effective in its goals without shit like this being commonplace?

2. How many individual instances of hard drug use do you think lead directly to physical effects more traumatic and unpleasant than being subjected to a forced anal probe or being pepper-sprayed in the vagina?

3. What the fuck is wrong with America, seriously, I mean, Jesus, you know?

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If you’re arrested in the USA, you’re entitled to certain rights.

Being arrested’s not the same as being formally found guilty, after all. Once you’ve been convicted, you become a convict; if they just suspect you’ve committed a crime, you’re a suspect.

I’m tempted to embark on an etymological tangent about how the noun forms of those two words both have the emphasis on the first syllable, but the verb forms place it on the second, but that’s beside my point.

Closer to my point: When the authorities are still trying to figure out whether there’s any evidence that you’ve done anything wrong, they can’t just start throwing you in jail for as long as they like, or treating you like inhuman terrorist scum. You’re still just a person who they suspect.

If you don’t want every suspect to have full access to all these basic rights until the point of conviction, then you’re granting the police and the criminal justice system a large amount of power over literally everyone. Being arrested isn’t just for the guilty. Even convictions are often overturned when it later becomes clear they got the wrong person; merely suspecting some totally innocent people is, even more regularly, a necessary step on the path to investigating a crime and finding a guilty party.

If you want to start taking away people’s rights as soon as they’re a suspect, before any due process has found them guilty, then you want to give police the power to arrest anyone they like, on suspicion of a crime, without having to prove that they’re guilty of anything, and start refusing them the rights specifically granted them under the law and the Constitution. You basically want a police state.

If you only want to save that kind of thing for the worst offenders, the terrorists who want to destroy your whole freedom-loving country (and maybe the child molesters too because they’re terrible and frightening and definitely not human), then you still want the police to be able to decide, before any kind of trial or impartial assessment, who those worst offenders are, and how guilty are the people they’ve taken into custody. You still want to give the unelected guys with guns and badges a police-state level of power to take other people’s rights away.

And that is not a good thing to do.

This really isn’t that hard. I get that finding deep compassion for people and understanding their humanity after you’ve confirmed with certainty that they’ve done terrible things is a bigger pill to swallow, but “don’t call down the lynch mob on the first guy you slap handcuffs on, before there’s been any kind of hearing or arraignment let alone a fucking trial” is Basic Humanity 101, people. This stuff almost comes in the same lesson as the thing about not throwing bricks through paediatrician’s windows.

Some of the reaction to the arrest of a suspect in the Boston bombings has made it hard not to start shouting “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT DUE PROCESS IS FUCKING FOR, YOU GODDAMN NUMBSKULLS”. So hard, in fact, that I couldn’t hold back from shouting exactly that, in the sentence immediately preceding this one. The whole point is to put systems in place that rein in those baser instincts in us that call for immediate, eye-for-an-eye vengeance when we are wronged. It’s about recognising that we’re all made of meat, and we all fuck shit up. It’s not about making a token gesture to the ideas of accountability and transparency and individual liberty, and then chucking even that out the window once you’ve got someone who you just know is really bad.

And it’s not just from easily ignored extremists, either. Lindsey Graham’s been in the Senate for a decade, and has declared that letting this particular suspect have his rights is the last thing we may want to do. So, there you go. You can trust the cops to know who’s guilty and doesn’t deserve rights. Hardly even seems worth the hassle of a trial.

Hi again, new followers. You may also notice that, as well as a devout atheist, I’m kind of a crazy libertarian. (And even more of a crazy socialist. But we’ll get to that later.)

Anyway, I’ll be back on atheism tomorrow, in response to some questions from my last post and some other recent Twitter interaction. This is just something that bugged me today.

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A guy in prison is suing for being forced into slave labour.

He’s been offered the choice of working for 25 cents an hour, or suffering a condition known to be injurious to mental health.

And he hasn’t been convicted of any crime.

He’s awaiting trial because he can’t afford bail, and is one of a thousand such inmates in this one county alone, who are deemed to pose “little to no” danger to the public. But even if it had been established that he’d done anything wrong in his life – which, bear in mind, it hasn’t – this is the kind of retributive attitude to criminal justice which only serves to further distance the least advantaged from the rest of us.

Initially, a judge dismissed his case on the grounds that none of this man’s rights were being violated by this self-evidently inhumane treatment. The case was based on the 13th Amendment, and the judge said that what was going on here was “nothing like” the slavery of 19th century America which prompted the law in question.

Obviously, there are ways in which this guy’s situation is importantly different from the ownership of other human beings as property. But while the distinctions are important to remember, the similarities are too significant to ignore. An appeal court later decided:

Contrary to the district court’s conclusion, it is well-settled that the term ‘involuntary servitude’ is not limited to chattel slavery-like conditions. The amendment was intended to prohibit all forms of involuntary labor, not solely to abolish chattel slavery.

Whether this is true or not, you don’t need to be a constitutional scholar to observe injustice in the modern world. The way America’s system of crime and punishment treats those people who fall into its domain – whether wrongdoers or innocent bystanders – is a prime example.

(h/t BoingBoing)

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This right here is what I mean about the police.

If you’re a cop and you sexually assault a kid in Texas, you will serve less time behind bars than if you are a woman who has consensual sex with adults; you’re better off having a badge and a rape conviction than a vagina and consent.

It’s not that the police are all terrible people who do bad things. The fact that a particular police officer sexually molested a young girl is, I suspect, largely independent of his career choices.

But the police, as an institution, have a role of particular power and privilege in society which isn’t questioned enough. The prevailing attitudes around them seem to be such that they get off lighter for serious abuses of trust and power than the rest of us would.

Their authority makes it harder for accusations to be made against them, and for prosecutions like this to be successfully brought. There needs to be a sea change in the relationship between cops and everyone else. Part of that change is saying fuck the police, without losing our humanity.

Hey, remember when I was mostly just interested in how a lot of other people believe in God?

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Fuck the police

Yeah, I’m done with romance. Fuck this shit in the fucking neck.

A St. Paul, Minnesota family claims in a lawsuit that police officers who conducted a wrong-door raid on their home shot their dog, and then forced their three handcuffed children to sit near the dead pet while officers ransacked the home.

And when you read beyond the first sentence, it gets worse. They gave a girl a diabetic episode because they were too busy pointing their guns at her to let her take her medicine. You can die from those. Diabetic episodes, I mean. Also guns.

Fuck every single fucking thing about this. If you change “wrong-door raid” to “illegal home invasion” and “police officers” to “basically anything“, this instantly becomes one of the sickest crimes you’ve heard of in a long while. But because they’re police, and we need those brave boys in blue to conduct raids on the terrorists who live among us and foil their evil plans, events like these just become unfortunate blips on a landscape of protecting and serving.

These people had no right to enter that house. They had no right to forcibly put handcuffs on its occupants, threaten them with death, and murder their pet dog. Nobody ever has the right to do that to other people.

But some people want them to. Many people still think that our predominant attitude toward the police as an institution should be respect, deference, admiration. And what follows from that is that if they need to kick down your door while you’re asleep one day and fire guns in your home, well, it’s a small price to pay. Your house number kinda resembles that of someone who sounds Muslim and looks pretty scary. Your street name began with the same letter. It was an understandable mistake. They’re just trying to keep us safe.

The police force is no doubt full of individuals who deserve respect, and even admiration in some cases. A lot of them surely do try hard to do a difficult job, and succeed in keeping compassion and humility at the fore of their priorities. Police officers themselves I don’t necessarily have any complaint with.

But the official body known as the police deserves skepticism, scrutiny, suspicion, and very serious doubts as to its fitness for purpose.

They spent over an hour holding this family hostage and going through their stuff. If you forget that the “they” in that sentence were police ostensibly trying to keep us all safe from danger, we’re into lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key territory.

Fuck this.

(via Popehat)

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In some ways, I’m just not like other people.

“What?” I hear you cry, your shock and alarm carrying across the interwebs and back in time to my unusually spacially and temporally receptive ears. “You, a socially awkard bloke with not many friends who spends a lot of time on the internet, are telling us that you sometimes feel that a yawning gulf separates you from your fellow men? I find such a notion to be utterly preposterous.”

First of all, learn to talk proper. Second, I have something specific in mind, so pipe down.

This is a photo that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook lately:

The two men pictured have been implicated, in some way, in the disappearance of 12-year-old Tia Sharpe. [Edit: No they haven’t; the one on the left is Ian Huntley. I’ve been writing while sleepy again.] To my understanding, nobody has yet been charged with any crime relating to this case, and the body recently found at Tia’s grandmother’s house has not yet been positively identified.

The above image is among the more subtle and tasteful of the numerous calls for these two men’s execution that have appeared on the internet recently. It looks restrained next to some of the sentiments that have been expressed:

get a 20ft rope tie it to him pour petrol over him and the rope set fire to te rope at the end and give him 1 of those hand held plastic fans make him feel how that poor girl felt b4 he killed her.

This kind of reaction strongly demonstrates two things in particular. The rush to judgment is quite alarming, given the tenuousness of any such certainty about a man’s guilt based solely on media reporting in the early days of an investigation, something which has gone badly wrong in the past; and the absolute spitting fury and hatred is as pure and untainted by understanding as it gets.

The first of these is somewhat relatable. I’m hardly free from guilt when it comes to making my mind up too quickly about something based on preliminary evidence, even when it seems like there’s good reason to have strong suspicions.

But the fury and hatred… I just don’t have that. Not even something similar to the above but with better spelling.

It’s not like I don’t get that murdering a child – if, indeed, anyone’s actually done that in this case – is about the most terrible crime there is. But because it’s so obviously an unspeakably appalling thing to happen, I’m not sure I see the point in anger.

When people feel compelled to pour out reams of creative abuse at someone who they believe has done something terrible, it can prompt the question of what they’re trying to prove, and to whom. Apparently it’s important to Lynden Hadley that everyone be clear that he’s totally not on board with this whole child murder thing. But does that really need pointing out? Why would anyone have doubted that about him in the first place?

I suspect that Lynden would share the view of another commenter on that first picture, who opined: “They are not human”. Which is simply empirically incorrect. People who commit horrible murders absolutely are human. Deplorable atrocities are well within the bounds of feasible human psychology.

Distancing yourself from evil-doers is one thing, but denying a similarity of species is a dangerous road to go down. Once you’ve decided it’s only non-humans who do terrible things, it stops being important that you treat those people with humanity and refrain from doing terrible things yourself. It nicely justifies anything you do, since obviously you are a human. Not like those monsters.

People who wish painful, agonising, brutal, violent death on someone they’ve never met and who may well be innocent of any crime are humans too.

But they do make me angry.

I’m not the only one in my online social group, such as it is, to have exhibited greater rage over these pre-emptive calls for a person’s murder, as over the murder that may have actually been committed. If I were a proper blogger, I’d have done some intelligent self-examination and be able to explain why that is. I think the level of my creative output for this last week rather well refutes that possibility, though.

But here’s a poorly thought-out guess: When a crime is committed, there’s a criminal justice process to deal with it. It’s universally accepted that killing people is not okay, so literally everyone is unified in wanting this girl’s disappearance investigated, and action taken against anyone guilty of a crime.

But the mob justice has a sheen of social acceptability. It’s not just one wacky individual calling for an exception to the “killing people is not okay” agreement, and it’s not something the police are probably going to deal with. Large numbers of people believe that treating people like this – with unnervingly sincere threats of inflicting pain, and claiming to act in defence of moral propriety – is appropriate and justified. Perhaps that’s far more offensive than simple, obviously evil, child murder.

Of course, I also get angry over incredibly petty things which have almost no real effect on anybody’s lives, which barely rise above the level of minor annoyance, and where there’s not even a worthwhile current of opinion to take a stand against. The rogue apostrophes on the “GOOD’S INWARD’S” sign on a building I walk past on my way to work make my blood boil. How much must you have misunderstood even the most simple workings of the English fucking language to cock something up that much?

That’s a ludicrous point about grammar. I didn’t get that sweary when discussing the very real chance that a 12-year-old girl was murdered. And my main complaint seems to be with the mob justice crowd’s self-righteousness, more than with the actual ending of people’s lives. Maybe it really is me that’s broken.

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I touched briefly yesterday on the role of the police in perpetuating and exacerbating America’s serious gun problem. This deserves to be expanded on.

In Florida, police knocked on someone’s door, and when the guy answered it with his own gun drawn, they shot him dead. They hadn’t announced themselves as police, and the guy was apparently just a little paranoid. The cops were trying to track down a murder suspect, but had got the wrong apartment.

In California, a crowd gathered to protest against the police’s treatment of a homeless man suffering from mental illness last year, who died after an alleged violent beating by police. At the protest, cops fired rubber bullets into the crowd, and sent a police dog to engage with members of the public, who included a mother holding a child.

In Virginia, a police officer went to a family’s home, to let them know that their son was dead, having been the tragic victim of a shooting. After breaking this sad news, the officer found himself being approached by the family dog, which he shot and killed.

These are just a handful of the examples of this kind of thing which I’ve noticed in the last week or two. Hang out with Radley Balko, and there’s another story like it pretty much every day.

And it’s not just the US which has problems like this. The most prominent example from my own country in recent weeks has been the case surrounding Ian Tomlinson, who a coroner’s inquest found died in 2009 from internal bleeding, as a direct result of being struck and pushed by PC Simon Harwood. His death was ruled an “unlawful killing”.

When the jury trial of PC Harwood concluded last week, he was found not guilty of manslaughter.

So, the complete official picture is that Ian Tomlinson was unlawfully killed… but not by the thug who violently beat him and caused the injuries from which he died.

(If my use of the word “thug” seems needlessly inflammatory and pejorative there, have a look at the video, read about his history of disciplinary proceedings, then see if that still seems like something worth complaining about.)

This isn’t just about “fuck the police” (on which I’ve written before, here and here – the title of this post might make more sense when seen as part of a pattern). Although yes, that is somewhere to start, so to reiterate: Fuck the police. But that’s not because I want there to be a combative relationship between ordinary people, and this separate demographic of individuals who just happen to be given a lot more leeway in their use of violence.

We need to change the way we see the police. Not as an “enemy”, who we can “beat” if we fight them hard enough and then we’ll have “won”. But also not as people who can be relied upon to look after us, to fix our problems, to be forever brave and principled in their commitment to justice.

And definitely not as a powerful authority to be feared.

There are legitimate things for a police force to do, and ways in which such a force could legitimately act to keep order, deter crime, and foil the actions of criminals. Sometimes they do act like this, and numerous individuals have done great things and shown commendable courage in their roles representing the police. But we don’t need to choose between supporting or condemning the entire institution and all its actions together.

The police aren’t without purpose, but they’re also potentially dangerous people with weapons and authority, both of which they’re prone to use unjustly against us, with tragic results. Many people, not without good reason, live in greater fear of the harm this protective force will do against them, than of the criminals they’re being “protected” from.

I’d love to be able to see the police in a more generous and respectable light than this. But they’re going to have to earn it. And the rest of us should be more aware of what we will and won’t put up with from them in the meantime.

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