Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Wilson's Acquittal Don't Mean Shit

That headline is about as eloquent as I can be during this boiling rage. I want to write a million words on why this entire investigation has been a meaningless sham from the get-go, but I'm tyring to force myself to only hit the lowlights.

As you're already aware, police kill people all the time and are basically never punished for it. In fact, they're rarely indicted, as prosecutors rarely bother even filing charges against police because they know they won't stick. Humorously enough, one of the major reasons it's difficult to bring charges against police is because the police, like all violent and lawless gangs, will absolutely never testify against one another no matter what has been done. Protecting your murderous/rapist/thieving friends in blue means far more than the law to these people.

Darren Wilson, the murderer who is now walking free, was basically uninjured. Only in a nation with such a vile history of racism could barely-visible bruises somehow equate to the necessity of murdering an unarmed child. In fact, Wilson specifically cited the classic "big nigga" defense to justify his actions; even though he and Brown were about the same size, Brown is Black, and Black people have magical abilities which make the stronger than white people and impervious to pain. This has actually been extensively studied, as white people think Black people are such magical beasts that white people think pain doesn't effect Black people to nearly the same extent. This is why Wilson needed to murder Brown; because he was a magical Black man who wouldn't feel pain so he had to be murdered.

The fact that Wilson was not indicted means nothing about his innocence, but instead says everything about how the county prosecutor did not want to go to trial. A grand jury not returning any indictment at all is actually pretty fucking rare. To quote the linked article:

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to "indict a ham sandwich." The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

It's also important to remember that the "physical" evidence, which is now being held in much higher esteem than the witness evidence (mostly because the witness evidence all pointed to Wilson being a murderer), is pretty much worthless. In fact, a recent meta study by the National Academy of Sciences found that pretty much every forensic science measure which isn't based on direct DNA evidence is completely worthless. There are basically no standards, no accreditation, and it's all pretty much make believe. Hell, one recent article I read gave top forensic scientists hair to analyze and these "experts" couldn't even tell if the hair was real or fake, let alone whether it came from a human or an animal. These are the people whose expertise was relied on for releasing Wilson.

One of the reasons you'll see so many clueless white people saying stupid shit about this is that most white people don't actually know or speak to any people of color. So for a lot of white people, this is some weird, isolated incident and they can't understand why "those" people are so upset. Hint: it's from the fact they are hunted like animals by the very people paid to protect them.

Finally, if you're one of those people who sympathizes but wonders why people would go around burning down buildings in "their neighborhood," I suggest you read this. Or just listen to Malcolm, which is always good advice, but especially pertinent here:

A good example of how they do it in New York: Last summer, when the Blacks were rioting—the riots, actually they weren't riots in the first place; they were reactions against police brutality. And when the Afro-Americans reacted against the brutal measures that were executed against them by the police, the press all over the world projected them as rioters. When the store windows were broken in the Black community, immediately it was made to appear that this was being done not by people who were reacting over civil rights violations, but they gave the impression that these were hoodlums, vagrants, criminals....
But this is wrong. In America the Black community in which we live is not owned by us. The landlord is white. The merchant is white. In fact, the entire economy of the Black community in the States is controlled by someone who doesn't even live there. The property that we live in is owned by someone else. The store that we trade with is operated by someone else. And these are the people who suck the economic blood of our community.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Yet Another Person Chimes In On #pointergate

If you're reading this, then you're no doubt already aware of the KSTP (Minneapolis) news story claiming the mayor was photographed making gang signs with an ex-felon. The gang sign in this instance was made by extending the index finger straight out and using it to draw a direct line to another person, or what we lay people call "pointing at someone." The faux non-story was quickly called out and led to national mockery of KSTP specifically and poor Minneapolis generally.

Plenty has already been said about how ridiculously racist the assumption that anything a Black person does with their hands is automatically a gang sign (hell, HuffPo called it "the most racist story of the year"). It is, much like the Fox News "terrorist fist jab" story a few years back, an obviously craven attempt to create a ridiculous story line out of nothing. One former KSTP staffer even wrote a great piece detailing why such racist dreck was allowed to make it to air in the first place.

What I'm most interested in this story, though, as a criminologist is the activity of the police in the report and subsequent follow-up pieces. Minneapolis PD, unfortunately, has a pretty long history of racial problems. Also significant to the story, they're not generally big fans of Mayor Hodges, who has made some overtures to cleaning up the force, nor the new chief (who, it should be pointed out, was about 5 feet away from the Mayor when she was being photographed making these "gang signs.").

And that's where the real impetus for the story comes in.

As one of the officers quoted in the original KSTP report notes, this is just another in a long line of actions Mayor Hodges has undertaken that upset rank-and-file police. And clearly they have seized upon this non-story as a chance to score political points against the Mayor. Which in and of itself is not such a big problem; while distasteful, that's how politics works. The problem is that the officer is on camera blatantly lying to the public. The gesture in the photo, as twitter has made more than clear, is simply two people pointing at each other. It is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be a "recognized gang sign." That is a simple, bald-faced lie.

And this is what should concern us as citizens worried about anything approaching equal protection under the law. Because if the police are willing to have a spokesperson come on tv and directly and obviously lie to the public simply to score cheap political points, when else are they willing to so glibly disregard the truth for when it conveniently suits them? What about, say, when one of their officers murders an unarmed teenager?

The Minneapolis PD has very little incentive to lie as they have during the Mayor Hodges photo story. It's just some dumb run-of-the-mill racism that will be forgotten within a few weeks. Yet they're obviously willing to appear on television blatantly lying about this small matter. When it comes to matters of significantly more weight, when there's a real incentive to hide the truth from the public, well then it's hard to blame those of us who have a difficult time accepting the police version of events.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Hey Moron Feminists, Let a Moderately Humorous Comic Writer Tell You What You're Doing Wrong!

Scott Adams, creator of the super-edgy comic that's willing to take the radical position that sometimes office life isn't the most fun thing in the world, also has some thoughts on that street harassment video that's making the rounds. Spoiler alert: rich white guys thinks people who aren't rich white guys are just looking for stuff to complain about. After all, if life isn't hard for a rich white guy, how can it be hard for anyone? When will these women get it together and finally listen to a man?

To save you the time of reading it (seriously, it's neither original nor well-written and really not worth your time), he hits all the standard tropes of the "enlightened" "non-misongynist" who just happens to think everything feminists do is wrong and stupid. For instance, while acknowledging there might still be an occasional problem experienced by women, we solved most of the big stuff a century ago, so you're just nitpicking if you're upset.

It's also got the kind of tone-deaf commentary disguised as completely clueless advice rich white guys love to give. For instance, he explains that street harassment is apparently exclusive to New York City and would not happen to you if you just moved somewhere else. After all, he doesn't get catcalled walking down the streets of his suburb, so obviously it doesn't happen there (gee, can't think of any other reason why a middle-aged man would not be catcalled on the street as much as a young woman. Must totally and exclusively be the difference between NYC and his neighborhood). Of course, it's also super easy for people to move, because we all have tons of extra cash sitting around, not to mention that in an economy like this it's almost impossible to move to a new city and not have a job the moment you get there. After all, if you can make millions re-telling the same shitty joke every day, how hard can it be?

No, what really makes this awesome is that Adams takes two separate pauses in his rant to remind you that if you disagree with anything he says, it's because you're a shrieking harpy who is incapable of logical thinking. Here's one of his "warnings:"

I pause here to make a clarification for any folks who might have wandered over here from Jezebel.com, HuffingtonPost.com, or Slate.com. I will try to type slowly so you understand this next part: Scott...is...saying...there...is... still ...plenty... of ...spousal abuse...job discrimination ...sex crimes... and ...other ...horrors...perpetrated against...women.  But in 2014 that stuff looks more like crime than sexism. All women and 98% of men are on the same side when it comes to the criminal stuff.

Ha! I mean, bitchez, amirite?!? What I love about this is how he manages to be an even bigger asshole than your standard "hey, I'm just being logical. If you point out anything wrong with what I say it's not because I'm being a sexist piece of shit, it's because you don't understand logic." Because he tries to have it both ways -- obviously he can't be sexist because he acknowledges that spousal abuse, employment discrimination, sex crimes and assorted other horrors still exist. But then in the next fucking sentence he immediately waves it all away, implying it's a problem that barely exists and explicitly stating all women and 98% of men oppose those things.

This is really interesting, as I would love to hear Adam's opinion on how those things, those "horrors," continue to exist despite, by his calculation, less than 1% of the entire population thinking they're acceptable? That's made even more confusing by the fact that, for instance, spousal abuse is committed by a lot more than 2% of men in America. But don't worry, apparently most of the guys beating their wives don't really believe in spousal abuse, so it doesn't really count, right? It's like reading your horoscope for fun; you don't really believe in the zodiac, it's just fun to see what it says. These guys apparently just beat their wives for the amusement, since we know, according to Adams, they don't believe in it.

But there I go, disagreeing with his logic when he took such time to assure me he's being completely logical. Holy shit, somehow I've become a shrieking harpy who doesn't understand logic! And all because I happened to point out that what he argues is empirically not true. But what do facts mean against the supreme logic of the self-appointed not-sexist man?!?


Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

May your day be fun and wonderful and spooky and all that, and may you not run into any of these horrible abominations posing as legitimate candy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You Learn Something New Every Day

Yesterday I had two guest speakers from the WV Innocence Project come to class to talk about the work they do. For those not in the know, the Innocence Project is essentially a loosely-connected group of lawyers and legal advocates who review the cases of and advocate for factually-innocent prisoners. This bit of tortured language, factually innocent, is necessary because the only people the Innocence Project represents are people who they can indeed prove are innocent of the crime for which they're incarcerated. This makes their work, which often consists of a very long struggle to get the innocent person released, demonstrates a great deal about the problems with our criminal justice system. I find that students tend to take them more seriously, as they (like a lot of Americans) dismiss the idea of people being denied their constitutional rights during an investigation or trial as an actually meaningful defense (which has always confused me, because why have a constitution if we decide it's protections are really just cumbersome "technicalities?"). But no such argument here, as the people in question are empirically innocent (the vast majority proven so by DNA testing).

Although I'm pretty familiar with the work of the Innocence Project, I haven't devotedly followed their publications, and as such learned quite a bit from those two guests. But the most surprising to me was that of the 321 people exonerated by the Innocence Project, over half of them were originally convicted due to faulty conclusions drawn from forensic science.

Even more surprising was learning that of all the various forms of forensic analysis (hair analysis, fingerprints, bite marks, firearms analysis, tread and sole marks, etc.), pretty much the only valid and reliable one is DNA analysis. According to a massive study from the National Academy of Sciences, all other forms of not only lack any sort of national or conventional standards or training, but have also never been proven to be scientifically valid.

While the report goes into great detail about the relative validity of various forensics techniques, the general conclusion is that they're less on the level of DNA testing (pretty reliable) but instead much closer to the level of the polygraph (that is, may help aid an investigation, but nowhere near reliable and valid enough to rely on for a conviction).

As the fine folks from the WVIP did a good job explaining, these problems don't necessarily come from willful ignorance or intentional misconduct, but instead from the fact that our scientific understanding of most of these forms of investigation is still very much in its infancy. That, and we place a great deal of emphasis on precedent at pretty much every level of our cjs, and this is just always the way we've done things. Of course, the fact that it's no one's fault is small comfort to the wrongly convicted.

This adds yet another layer to my long-gestating argument that television police, courtroom, and prison dramas are not only terrible tv, but are actually harmful, as they present a world so unlike ours yet clearly many people believe them to be only slight exaggerations of reality, if at all. On tv, the plucky forensic scientist/detective/swimwear model can find a single hair and unravel an entire case. In reality, we can be fooled into thinking dog hair is evidence a human committed a crime...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reverse Whitewashing?

In America, like most places, we love to whitewash away the many sins of our nation. Of course, ironically, this often means actually inserting more people of color into our memories. I thought about yesterday whilst watching one of those damn Cliff Paul commercials for the umpteenth time:



Of course this is all silly make believe, but in 1922, the fictitious Cliff Paul's grandfather and the real Chris Paul's grandfather would not have had a store next to a white business or played on an integrated basketball team. There were incredibly few Black-owned businesses at the time, and they sure as hell were segregated into neighborhoods far away from white insurance agencies.

But that whole Jim Crow thing? You know, when there were specific laws which only applied to Black people? You know, the system of laws in which minor theft committed by Black people was treated as a far more significant crime than murder committed by white people? You know, the system which spawned the convict lease program, which was reserved almost exclusively for Black people, and was quite literally worse than slavery?

Yeah, according to State Farm, that didn't exist. Nope, in 1922 America was apparently a racially-inclusive Eden where everyone got along and there weren't, say, concerted lynchings campaigns specifically to terrorize the Black community.

Obviously, though, this belief that racism was never that bad and, besides, ended like a long time ago so it doesn't matter has much weightier implications than shitty insurance commercials. Take this segment from last night's Daily Show:



Obviously I didn't expect O'Reilly to ever admit the existence of white privilege, but look at the amazing rhetorical gymnastics he performs to deny it. It's the kind of thing that would be hilarious were it not for the horrible consequences this kind of view creates in real life.

By far the funniest/saddest bit is that O'Reilly grew up in Levittown. For those unfamiliar, Levittown was built almost exclusively by the GI bill, the largest redistribution of wealth in the history of our nation and a program which has been long viewed as in a major part responsible for the creation of the American middle class. The GI bill is the biggest government "handout," as O'Reilly would say, ever given to the American people. It allowed a generation to buy homes, which in America tend to be the only major asset people own and the principle way in which they gain wealth.

But guess who Levittown and the GI Bill were legally closed to? That's right, anyone but white people. What's so hilarious is that O'Reilly tries the standard racist tack of claiming race mattered once, but that was soooooo loooooong ago, Go what can't you just shut up about it?

Except it wasn't so long ago. It was during his lifetime. It's the reason why his working-class parents were able to send him to college and why so many Black working-class parents of his generation were unable to sen their kid to college. Because the means of advancement in our society were quite literally only open to white people, something I know O'Reilly actually knows, because he grew up smack dab in the middle of it.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Inaugural Flu of the Fall

Gross. I've written many times in this space about how annoying it is to be sick once it stops meaning staying home from school to watch cartoons all day, but I go through the same pouty realization of this every time anyway.

Right now I'm working on one of those really annoying colds wherein my throat hurts terribly but nothing else really seem wrong. But the damn throat hurts so much it makes it nigh impossible to concentrate on anything, despite constant doses of dayquil and cough drops.

But on the plus side, this year's baseball playoffs feature one of the most lovably plucky teams you'll ever see in the Kansas City Royals. Of all teams, only my beloved Twins having this run would even come close to how exciting it is. I was going to write much more about this, but again, sick and all, so go read Will Leitch musing on how improbable a KC-Baltimore ALCS is.