Loretta Lynch’s Hot and Cold Running Data-Sharing

[See update below: Lynch says she didn’t mean how these statements came out.]

It’s bad enough that Attorney General Loretta Lynch refuses to force police to keep records on how many people they kill.

In a conversation with NBC journalist Chuck Todd on a range of criminal justice issues, Lynch said on Thursday that she does not support a federal mandate to report people killed by police.

“One of the things we are focusing on at the Department of Justice is not trying to reach down from Washington and dictate to every local department how they should handle the minutia of record keeping, but we are stressing to them that these records must be kept,” she said at the Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by AtlanticLIVE and the Aspen Institute.

It’s her reasoning I find really troubling.

Lynch said the Justice Department does “encourage” local departments to maintain records on police shootings but that improving police-community relations is more important. She noted that the small size of the average police department could make record-keeping difficult.

“The statistics are important, but the real issues are: ‘what steps are we all taking to connect communities … with police and back with government?’” she said.

It’s all well and good to say communities and their cops just need to get along.

But cops are claiming a Ferguson Effect that statistically doesn’t exist and the NYT is reprinting the claim only because the cops say so.

Here’s what the crime story said: “Among some experts and rank-and-file officers, the notion that less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals — known as the “Ferguson effect” in some circles — is a popular theory for the uptick in violence.” A paragraph later, the story continues: “Others doubt the theory or say data has not emerged to prove it.” Two experts are quoted, and the story moves on from there.

Bill Michtom of Portland, Ore., wrote to me about it, calling it a “classic example of false equivalence.” Ta-Nehisi Coates called the suggestion of a Ferguson effect “utterly baseless” in a piece for The Atlantic, noting that one of the experts quoted said that the rise in violent crime in St. Louis had begun before the large protests last year over a white police officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

One of the story’s reporters, Monica Davey, and the national editor, Alison Mitchell, strongly disagree that this is false equivalence or that it was misleading to readers. In fact, they told me, it would be wrong of The Times not to report something that some police officers are identifying as part of their mind-set.

Ms. Davey, who agrees that false balance is infuriating and must be avoided, said in an email that this example simply doesn’t fit the description. For one thing, she said, there is no established truth here: “The question about the validity of this theory simply has not been definitively answered in the way that the earth’s shape has.” And, she said, “police officers must be given some credence in assessing whether they themselves feel that they are behaving differently now — the essence of what some of them have called the ‘Ferguson effect.’ ”

Or, as Ms. Mitchell puts it: “We have the police suggesting that police are pulling back — should we not report that?”

My view is that the introduction of this explosive idea didn’t serve readers well because, in this context, it was mentioned briefly, sourced vaguely, and then countered by disagreement. If police officers are indeed pulling back from their duties, and are willing to be identified and quoted, and if there’s evidence to back it up, that would be worth a full exploration in a separate article. But this glancing treatment could easily have left readers baffled, at the very least.

Things aren’t going to improve so long as cops can just make shit up, in spite of data to the contrary.

Just as importantly, since 9/11, the mandate throughout the Federal government — and especially for FBI — has been to share information promiscuously, including down to local police departments. Some of that information includes untested leads; some of it includes cyber and terrorist threat assessments.

If Lynch is telling us these local police departments don’t have the ability to handle reporting back and forth from the federal government, than the rest of the info sharing should stop too, because it could violate Americans’ privacy and/or expose intelligence streams.

But we all know that’s not going to happen.

Which means Lynch is supporting an asymmetrical reporting system that can’t be used for oversight of the larger system.

Update: Lynch says her statements last week weren’t what she was trying to say.

The point I was trying to make at that conference related to our overall view of how we deal with police departments as part of our practice of enforcing consent decrees, or working with them and I was trying to make the point that we also have to focus on building community trust which is a very individual – very local – practice.  Unfortunately, my comments gave the misperception that we were changing our view in some way about the importance of this data – nothing could be further from the truth.  This data is not only vital – we are working closely with law enforcement to develop national consistent standards for collecting this kind of information.

More from her statement:

“The department’s position and the administration’s position has consistently been that we need to have national, consistent data,” said Attorney General Lynch.  “This information is useful because it helps us see trends, it helps us promote accountability and transparency,” said Attorney General Lynch.  “We’re also going further in developing standards for publishing information about deaths in custody as well, because transparency and accountability are helped by this kind of national data.”

Did Sheriff Hanlin Know of Christopher Harper Mercer before His Massacre?

I read this passage — from the Sheriff in charge of the investigation into the mass killing by Christopher Harper Mercer the other day — several times.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin told reporters it wouldn’t be strange for someone in the state to have so many weapons.

“In Oregon, this is a hunting state and firearms are possible in most households,” he said.

Investigators said it was too soon to identify a motive, although Hanlin earlier told NBC’s TODAY he wasn’t aware of any “specific red flags” for the shooter.

“He is a local resident and I know personally I haven’t heard of any warning signs coming from this person,” Hanlin said.

Because Hanlin said, “I personally,” I initially believed he meant he personally knew of Harper Mercer. But after re-reading it, I believe, though am not certain, that Hanlin meant only that in the time Harper Mercer has been living in town (about four years, according to reports) he has never come up on the sheriff department’s radar (or more specifically, Hanlin’s personal radar). In a town of 20,000 people, there’d be no reason for Hanlin to know everyone.

Still, I wonder, given Hanlin’s refusal to utter Harper Mercer’s name. Given that both are big gun enthusiasts (though as Hanlin noted, that’s fairly common in the area), it’s possible they’ve met. There’d be no fault in that, nor would Hanlin be at fault for not noticing the guy, because nothing we know of in his history should have tipped anyone but the people who were egging him on on 4Chan. But I bet a guy like Hanlin has a certain idea of who engages in senseless killing and it’s not a guy like Harper Mercer, no matter how much of a loner.

In any case, this passage, from a local editorial, got me wondering about that statement from Hanlin again.

The investigation, led by Hanlin’s office, has only just begun. In press conferences, Hanlin has been urging anyone who might have tips relating to the shootings to call 1-800-CALL-FBI. But as a practical matter, how are people who may have valuable information about Harper-Mercer supposed to call if they never know that he was the shooter?

They’re right: Hanlin’s dictate no one should name Harper Mercer makes it somewhat less likely locals would call in tips of any warning signs.

Add in Hanlin’s fierce belief that guns are under threat — extending even to Newtown trutherism — and I wonder whether he wants to suppress how much like Harper Mercer looks like any other gun enthusiast.

In general, I’m sympathetic to the idea that we ought to celebrate the guy who who tried to save innocents — Chris Mintz — rather than focus on the guy who did the massacre. I very much believe the entire country needs to look at how much it obsesses on these massacres, which encourages fly-by panic and may inspire copy-cats, but which has never led to policy changes.

But I also believe that this country needs to come to grips with the fact that a gun rampage is as likely — statistically more likely — to be committed by a guy like Harper Mercer or Dylann Roof or James Holmes and, especially, Adam Lanza as it is to be committed by a Muslim guy. Only then will we understand the problem is not terrorism, it’s that some young men channel their resentment and loneliness into guns in this country, regardless of what faith or color they are. And coming to that realization takes some details (details Hanlin may find uncomfortable) and a name.

From George Zimmerman to Dylann Roof to Bryce Williams

In a manifesto sent to ABC today, Bryce Williams — who shot several people on camera this morning before escaping then killing himself just before he was apprehended — explained that the Charleston Church shooting had been his last straw.

In the 23-page document faxed to ABC News, the writer says “MY NAME IS BRYCE WILLIAMS” and his legal name is Vester Lee Flanagan II.” He writes what triggered today’s carnage was his reaction to the racism of the Charleston church shooting:

“Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15…”

“What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”

It is unclear whose initials he is referring to. He continues, “As for Dylann Roof? You (deleted)! You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE …(deleted)!!!” He said Jehovah spoke to him, telling him to act.

In his own manifesto, Dylann Roof attributed his own radicalization to white supremacists’ reframing of the Trayvon Martin killing.

The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?

Meanwhile, George Zimmerman is selling Confederate Flags to help protect what he sees as the First and Second Amendment rights of a gun shop owner who  has declared his shop Muslim-free.

Update: And now Zimmerman has weighed in:

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Angry White Male Terror in US More Deadly Than Jihad Since 9/11

Remember back in 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security warned (pdf) against the growth of homegrown terror arising from right-wing extremism? Remember how the howls of protest from the same right-wing politicians who dog-whistle the right-wing extremists into action were so loud that DHS took the report off its website and even disbanded the research unit that produced the report? Here’s Daryl Johnson, who headed the group at DHS that produced the report, talking in 2011:

When the right-wing report was leaked and people politicized it, my management got scared and thought DHS would be scaled back. It created an environment where my analysts and I couldn’t get our work done. DHS stopped all of our work and instituted restrictive policies. Eventually, they ended up gutting my unit. All of this happened within six to nine months after the furor over the report. Analysts then began leaving DHS. One analyst went to ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], another to the FBI, a third went to the U.S. Marshals, and so on. There is just one person there today who is still a “domestic terrorism” analyst.

Since our report was leaked, DHS has not released a single report of its own on this topic. Not anything dealing with non-Islamic domestic extremism—whether it’s anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, “sovereign citizens,” eco-terrorists, the whole gamut.

Finally, in February of this year, DHS finally got around to mentioning the right-wing terror threat again:

A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the Department of Homeland Security this month and reviewed by CNN, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing sovereign citizen extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism.

Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.​

The Homeland Security report, produced in coordination with the FBI, counts 24 violent sovereign citizen-related attacks across the U.S. since 2010.

In a jaw-dropping revelation, the CNN article on the report goes on to note that there may be as many as 300,000 adherents to the sovereign citizen extremist movement.

But it’s the white supremacists who now are in the spotlight thanks to the racist terrorism in Charleston last week. And the New York Times is driving that point home by citing a New America analysis of terror attacks in the US since 9/11:

In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.

But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.

The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the “sovereign citizen” movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.

When we go to the New America analysis, we see that half of the deaths from attacks termed jihadist came in a single attack, the one at Fort Hood. There are only seven entries on the list of jihadist attacks since 9/11. On the other hand, there are 19 entries on the right-wing attack list (and the biggest of those, the Oklahoma City bombing, was pre-9/11 and so is excluded from the list).

Despite the trillions spent and lives lost in fighting jihadists “over there” so that we won’t have to fight them here, the homegrown threat from angry white males is still stronger than the threat from jihadists inside the country. Just imagine the howls, though, should an extra 300,000 names of sovereign citizen adherents get added to the the Terrorist Screening Database. Meanwhile, panic buying of Confederate flags and guns continues. Angry white males are getting even angrier as they squirm under the spotlight.

No, There Is No Relative Human Value Status In Tragic Shootings

The BREAKING NEWS tonight is nine people being shot to death in Charleston South Carolina. From ABC News:

Nine people were killed when a gunman opened fire in a historic Charleston, South Carolina church Wednesday evening and police were searching for the suspect.

Police said that eight people were found dead inside the church. Two other people were rushed to the hospital and one died.

“We’re still gathering information so it’s not the time yet for details,” Mayor Joe Riley told local newspaper The Post and Courier. “I will say that this is an unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy in this most historic church, an evil and hateful person took the lives of citizens who had come to worship and pray together.”

CNN further reported that the knee jerk mayor of Charleston told reporters that it is all obviously a “hate crime” because people in a church were shot.

Is this, yet another, mass murder with all too easy to bring to bear and fire guns in the US tragic? Yes, obviously. Tragic is being too kind and semantically vague. It is horrid.

But, please, it is NOT worse because the victims were church goers, as their lives are not worth more than agnostics, atheists or other humans. Black children are worth no less than white suburbians. One faith is worth no more than the next or none at all. Just stop with that blithering idiocy.

Human life is precious, and we are all entitled to live. You are not privileged more than me, no matter how pious you may be, or pretend to be.

So, grieve mightily the gross and unnecessary loss of life in Charleston South Carolina tonight. But those lives are worth nothing more than Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Michael Brown or other human senselessly slain in the ridiculous gun fetish culture of the United States. And, no, Mr. Mayor, the locus of the shooting in a church does not de facto make it a “hate crime”. Stop with that bogus over claim too. Hyperbole is the antithesis of informed viewpoints.

Holder’s Agency in Ferguson

Eric Holder just published an op-ed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, apparently aiming to generate confidence in DOJ’s investigation into Darren Wilson’s killing of Mike Brown.

It starts with 3 sentences describing Brown’s killing — with no mention of Wilson, or even that a cop killed Brown.

Since the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, the nation and the world have witnessed the unrest that has gripped Ferguson, Mo. At the core of these demonstrations is a demand for answers about the circumstances of this young man’s death and a broader concern about the state of our criminal justice system.

At a time when so much may seem uncertain, the people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn — in a fair and thorough manner — exactly what happened.

A disembodied shooting killed Brown in this telling; violence did not.

Holder then spends several paragraphs discussing both the investigation itself, as well as the actions of the Civil Rights Division before he turns — in the course of one paragraph — to the protests. Here, violence is described as violence.

We understand the need for an independent investigation, and we hope that the independence and thoroughness of our investigation will bring some measure of calm to the tensions in Ferguson. In order to begin the healing process, however, we must first see an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson. Although these acts have been committed by a very small minority — and, in many cases, by individuals from outside Ferguson — they seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice. And they interrupt the deeper conversation that the legitimate demonstrators are trying to advance.

The implication, of course, is that the violence comes exclusively from that “very small minority,” not the cops shooting rubber bullets from their tanks.

I find the next paragraph truly remarkable.

The Justice Department will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told. But violence cannot be condoned. I urge the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights to join with law enforcement in condemning the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord.

The Justice Department — the Agency Eric Holder leads, the 40 FBI Agents and Civil Rights prosecutors Holder described — has done nothing visible thus far to defend the First Amendment.

And then, Holder says, “violence cannot be condoned.” A bizarre passive sentence with no agent. By whom? Who cannot condone violence?!?!

And he uses it to urge “the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights” — many of whom have been arrested, bullied, tear gassed, some of whom have formed chains to protect businesses — to “join with law enforcement,” the same law enforcement  that has been bullying them. Holder asks these citizens — who presumably are the ones he says cannot condone violence — to join the cops who have been engaging in violence to condemn others who have also been engaging in violence. Those “others” inflame tensions and sow discord. The cops don’t, according to this telling.

It takes a good paragraph and a half before Holder says the cops must restore trust. Only unlike the “citizens” of Ferguson, Holder does not urge the cops directly to do … anything. He just describes what should happen, he doesn’t command it to happen.

At the same time, good law enforcement requires forging bonds of trust between the police and the public. This trust is all-important, but it is also fragile. It requires that force be used in appropriate ways. Enforcement priorities and arrest patterns must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Note what else happens? That violence — unmentioned in Mike Brown’s actual shooting, but explicitly described when “those others” did it — here becomes “force.” Something distinct from the violence of looters.

Darren Wilson’s shooting of Mike Brown? Not described as violence — not even described as the act of a known man. The looters’ looting? They’re engaged in “violence.” And finally, the cops, whom Holder doesn’t dare urge to tone things down? They are exercising “force,” not “violence.”

I get there are legal reasons why he did this — notably, this permits him to endorse findings that Wilson used “force” out of fear for his own safety! But the grammar and vocabulary of this op-ed insists on the state’s monopoly on violence that it has been abusing for 10 days.

The Carnage In Isla Vista, Hashtag Justice and Echidne

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 11.41.50 AMI have not been there in a while, but I have been there quite a bit before, and the Isla Vista/Goleta area surrounding UCSB is everything good and bad that surrounds any major university. It is a melting pot teeming with brilliant young minds, eager to expand and ready to experiment and socialize. It is also cliquish and too easy to separate the in from the out crowd and, sometimes, rich from poor. Above all else, at least from my visits there when I was younger, IV was one wild party that could be anywhere along a couple of key streets, if not indeed out in the streets themselves. It was one hell of a good time.

But not this Memorial Day weekend. Something different and jolting happened, leaving seven souls dead, seven more injured and yet another community, and national audience, grieving and reaching for answers.

I don’t know what the answers are, and to a great extent, I do not think the pathology of this incident is yet ripe enough to draw them with any real definition. That has not, of course, stopped the light speed social justice court of Twitter and the internet.

The reaction on Twitter has run the spectrum from sober to hysterical. If you are on Twitter, you have seen it, if you are not, it is not hard to imagine if you are internet savvy enough to be reading the instant post. Speaking only for myself, however, I have been a little disturbed by the alacrity with which valuable social justice movements, and their participants, have glommed on to a tragic spree crime as the defining vehicle for their arguments, whether it be women’s rights, gun control or otherwise.

It strikes me, while certainly all of these things figure into the Rodger situation to some extent, hitching up to a spree murder by a mentally disturbed individual is not exactly a great vehicle for your social justice movement. It is more complex than that, and it is too easy in haste to mistake manifestations for root causes. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc if you will.

And, while I know the intent was good, I have found the “hashtag advocacy” via such tags as #YesAllWomen, and the reflexively responsive #NotAllMen, to not necessarily do all that much to further the well meaning intention of their adopters. While some of those tweets have seemed germane and helpful, a great many seem Continue reading

Uncomfortable Truth: The State Of Evidence in the George Zimmerman Prosecution

I have said this from the get go: In the case of State of Florida v. George Zimmerman, under the actual facts of the case from the State of Florida’s own disclosure, as opposed to hype from Benjamin Crump and his public relations team, who have self interest from representation of family members in a civil damages case, not to mention well meaning, even if uninformed, mass and liberal media, there has never been a good factual rebuttal to George Zimmerman’s own account of self defense. You know why? Because there is not any compelling rebuttal within the facts as adduced in the investigation and entered in the record at trial. And the presumption of innocence and burden of proof in the American criminal justice system still mean something.

Yes, I know what I am saying runs counter to the popular meme and what people emotionally feel and want to hear. But everything I have noted from the start of this case has been borne out in the trial evidence and resulting posture as the case heads to closing arguments and to the jury for deliberation.

Did you know that powerful local mayoral office politicians involved themselves, by meeting with only the victim’s family and their attorneys, in an improper ex-parte manner, to go over the most critical evidence during the early stages of the investigation and before said Martin family members’ statements were relied on to file charges? I bet you did not, but that has been the testimony in the trial record.

Did any of you see the young female neighborhood homeowner, Olivia Bertalan, that testified Wednesday as to the crime spree that was ongoing in her and Zimmerman’s neighborhood, Retreat at Twin Lakes, including the home invasion where she and her child were victims of one or more home invaders, and who was effusive in her praise for the concern of the neighborhood watch program and George Zimmerman? Did you know that, thanks in part to the actions of Zimmerman and his wife, the juvenile suspect was caught and sentenced as an adult by this same judge, Debra Nelson, to five years in prison? Probably not is my guess. But that, too, is the evidence.

Did any of you see the other neighbors, of all races, in Retreat at Twin Lakes who testified on Zimmerman’s behalf about the the facts of the case, that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor on top of Zimmerman when the shooting occurred, and the crime afflicting the neighborhood and the need for the neighborhood watch program? My guess is you did not. But that, too, is part of the evidence in the trial record.

Did any of you see the parade of witnesses that laid the foundation for the fact Trayvon Martin was the aggressor in the actual critical physical encounter between him and Zimmerman, and was on top of Zimmerman, and beating Zimmerman, both moments before, and at the time of, the key gun shot? And supported by both the case detectives and one of the foremost expert pathologists, Dr. Vincent di Maio, in the world? My guess is you did not. But that, too, is in the trial record as hard evidence.

Yes, all of those facts are exactly what was testified to in open court. Most of the witnesses were literally the state’s own witnesses, including the two main case detectives, Detective Chris Serino and Detective Doris Singleton. Did you know that the state’s own veteran case detectives, Serino and Singleton, testified they believed George Zimmerman and thought his version of the facts consistent and credible? My guess is you don’t know that. Yet all of that is exactly what the sworn testimony has been in open court.

LadyJusticeScalesDid you know that the state, by and through Angela Corey, relentlessly engaged in Brady violations with regard to discovery and evidence disclosure and that, as a result, discovery and depositions thereon have been ongoing even during the trial, all to the detriment to, and prejudice of, Defendant Zimmerman? My guess is you did not, but that too is part of the record.

In spite of all of the above, the political, and cravenly so, prosecution may still tug on enough emotional and falsely racial heartstrings to wrongfully convict Zimmerman. Almost surely there will be no conviction of the always wrongfully charged 2nd degree murder charge; but the possibly of a flawed compromise verdict to a lesser included charge of manslaughter, battery, or other lesser included offense, is very real. If so, it will, despite all the emotions of this case, be a tragedy of justice.

No matter what you think of George Zimmerman personally, the rule of law should militate in favor of an acquittal. Yes, if the burden of proof in the American criminal justice system is truly “beyond a reasonable doubt”, and if there really exists a common law right to “self defense”, then acquittal is exactly what the verdict should be, and must be.

I have no affinity for George Zimmerman. Frankly he strikes me as a hapless dope. Under no circumstances do I support George Zimmerman, or anybody else, wandering around with concealed carry, locked and loaded, firearms on neighborhood patrol (even though he was not on patrol, but only on his way to Target for family shopping). It is a tragic event waiting to happen and nowhere close to what the founders had in mind with regard to the Second Amendment. But my, and your, beliefs are not the law of the land either in Florida or anywhere else in the United States under District of Columbia v. Heller. And that is the law of the land, both for the Zimmerman case at bar, and and all others elsewhere.

We shall see how willing to follow the law the jury will be, and what their verdict is. But this case is not now, and NEVER has been, about what has been pitched and portrayed in the media. Never. It is not about racial prejudice and profiling (and the DOJ Civil Rights Division so found), and it is not about murder. It is about a tragic and unnecessary death, but one that is not a felony crime, despite all the sturm and drang.

State of Florida v. Zimmerman is a straight up traditional self defense case. It has never been pled as a Stand Your Ground defense case, irrespective of all the press coverage, attention and attribution to Stand Your Ground. It’s never been Stand Your Ground, and certainly is not now that the evidence is all in on the trial record. It is a straight self defense justification defense, one that would be pretty much the same under the law of any state in the union including that which you are in, and that I am in, now (so don’t blame “Florida law”).

There is nothing whatsoever unique in the self defense posture that has been effected in this case. Nothing. And it is, whether it is comfortable or not, a compelling self defense case. Actually, let us be honest: It is not comfortable. Not even close. But no matter how uncomfortable it is to say, Zimmerman needs to walk, because the self defense case is strong. The burden of proof in the instructions to the jury will read that not only is there a general presumption of innocence afforded Zimmerman but, moreover, the state must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did NOT act in self defense. Under the facts as adduced in the trial record that ought be, by all rights, an impossible burden for the jury to get past, whether on the pending count of 2nd degree depraved murder or any possible lesser included charge given to the jury.

The facts, the rule of law, and the constitutional burdens of proof compel an acquittal. Uncomfortable to hear; yes, it is. Necessary for an acquittal to occur; also, yes it is.

[UPDATE: Just a couple of quick notes. First off, the jury instructions: Judge Nelson accepted a lesser included for standard voluntary act manslaughter under FLRS 782.02(1). Nelson, thankfully, denied the wild request by the state to give a third degree murder instruction based on child abuse. It was a ridiculous attempt by the state and would have provided fertile ground for an allegation of reversible error had there been a conviction. So, the jury will deliberate only on the 2nd degree murder and the lesser included manslaughter charges, which is how it should be.

Prosecutor gave a long closing argument this afternoon. Parts of it were pretty good, parts fairly diffuse and rambling. Overall competent though, and he will still have a rebuttal after the defense closing tomorrow by Mark O’Mara.

John Galt Is Everywhere and His Killing Spree Continues

On Thursday, I wrote about the central role that absolute free market libertarianism, as personified by the fictional John Galt, played in the horrific explosion in West, Texas that took the lives of fourteen people, most of whom were volunteer firefighters fighting a fire at an unregulated fertilizer facility. We have now learned that the facility had a checkered history of ignoring regulations and had 1350 times more ammonium nitrate on hand than the amount that triggers a legal requirement to report the facility to Department of Homeland Security. Of course, the facility’s owner chose to ignore that regulation along with the many other regulations he chose to ignore. Sadly, some press accounts of the owner chose to focus more on his role as a church elder (Update: he was even at Bible study when the fire broke out!) than on how his choice to flout regulations and good sense led directly to this tragedy. Whatever the cause of the original fire that eventually triggered the explosion, the plant owner’s decision to maintain such a large and unreported amount of highly explosive ammonium nitrate so close to so many people played a huge role in how this tragedy played out.

Those deaths, and their roots in blatant disregard for government regulation in the belief that it harms business, are sadly just a small part of the larger picture of how free marketeers have corrupted the public marketplace of ideas to sow widespread death and destruction so that the “job creators” can go about their usual business of pocketing massive profits while refusing to make microscopic investments in small steps that would save many lives.

Remember the other, larger Massachusetts tragedy that killed at least 50 and injured 722? No?  It was discovered last fall that New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts had been flaunting the rules on drug manufacturing and in their haste to reap maximum profits shipped out vials of steroids contaminated with fungus. Thousands of patients around the country were injected with contaminated material and deaths and injuries followed.

You would think that since this tragedy played out last fall, the government would have realized the error of letting companies call themselves compounders when they are in reality manufacturing drugs on a large scale. Drug manufacturers are subject rigid FDA standards while compounders are regulated as if they are simple neighborhood pharmacies where the druggist might mix single vials of drugs into a form a local doctor has requested for individualized treatment of a patient. But no, because of massive lobbying on the part of compounders, who have become a huge presence because of the vast sums of money they can earn by working the margins of regulation, lawmakers pocket the proceeds of the lobbying and proclaim themselves powerless to harm the job creators as they bring these products to market. It should be viewed as no surprise then, that a different compounder, this time in Florida, now is recalling all of its products because it has been found to have been shipping product that was contaminated with bacteria. It is not yet known if any patients have been harmed by products from this compounder, but at least today’s article on the recall was able to update the death toll from the Massachusetts compounder to 53.

The Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent search for the perpetrators also was touched by John Galt. Technology has existed for nearly 20 years that can make individual production lots of explosives traceable. But when it came time to implement the technology, the NRA and other gun enthusiasts managed to limit the inclusion of taggants to plastic explosives and to specifically exempt black powder (otherwise known as gunpowder) from being required to be traceable. The Boston bombs used black powder. If investigators had been able to know within hours of the blast where and when the black powder was purchased, would they have been able to arrest the bombers sooner and without the subsequent death of one police officer and near death of another? The full shutdown of Boston on Friday would not have happened if the brothers had been arrested Wednesday or Thursday through tracing the black powder they purchased. But no, John Galt said that gunpowder manufacturers shouldn’t have to spend the extra pennies to tag production lots and the inclusion of taggants in gunpowder infringes the rights of gun owners in a de facto registration of their ammunition, so society has to suffer the consequences of this freedom.

Oh and all that gun freedom. It appears that we have five more gun freedom victims in Seattle today.

John Galt is a very busy guy, sowing death and destruction from one side of the country to the other. But since he continues to make good money, we have to give him his freedom and keep those markets wide open. Praise the lord of the free market and pass the untagged ammunition.

How Can We Say John Brennan “Kept Us Safe”?

I was struck when I read this line in Dexter Filkin’s article on John Brennan and drones:

None of the above is intended as an attack on Brennan, who has spent the past four years as President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor. He has a hard job. He is almost always forced to act on the basis of incomplete information. His job is to keep Americans safe, and he’s done that.

How are we supposed to measure Brennan’s success in the White House?

His title, after all, is not just “Counterterrorism Advisor.” It is “Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.” Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

As Counterterrorism Advisory Brennan deserves credit, I guess, as terrorism has declined from 2009 levels (2009 was a spike year). Though it’s unclear how much of that is organic, and how much a result of Brennan’s efforts. In any case, I’m certainly willing to give him credit on that front.

But say his Homeland Security mandate includes cyberdefense? If that’s true — and it was for Richard Clarke when he was in that job — then Brennan has most assuredly not kept us safe. We’re getting hacked more than ever and we have yet to implement a comprehensive program that will keep critical infrastructure owned by corporations adequately defended.

Domestic terrorism is sort of included in Homeland Security. Indeed, Brennan has been involved in responses to mass shootings of both the domestic terrorist and non-terrorist varieties. If that’s part of Brennan’s mandate, than isn’t the spiraling rate of mass gun shootings proof he has failed? How can Filkins say Brennan “kept us safe” after Newtown?

And then there are things that should be included under any Homeland Security mandate but aren’t. Chief among them would be, at the very least, increasing resilience to extreme weather events, but preferably even efforts to minimize the risk of climate change. Hurricane response is included, and there are still people in NYC who lack heat from Hurricane Sandy. Drought badly damaged the navigability of the Mississippi this year; does our failure to resolve that problem count?

Infrastructure safety is another; some of the very same corporations that refuse to implement cybersecurity defenses have had major catastrophes caused simply by neglect (which suggests the push to get them to shore up only their cybersecurity defenses is a mistaken approach). How do we measure that?

Honestly, I’m as critical of Brennan as anyone, and I’m not sure it’s fair to hold him accountable for all the Homeland Security lapses on his watch. After all (as this Congressional Research Service paper makes clear), we don’t have a solid definition of what’s included in Homeland Security. So until we define it clearly, no one can be held accountable to that fuzzy definition.

That said, we ought to, at least, be cognizant of the definitions those executing the mission use. This is actually even relevant assuming (as is almost certain) that Brennan is confirmed; there has been debate, after all, whether or not CIA should be collecting intelligence on climate change. John Brennan prioritized his own work at the White House, and he appears not to have prioritized keeping first graders and Sikhs in their temple safe from crazy gunmen.

The point is, we as a country need to get better about defining what security for the “homeland” means, particularly because it is intended to include non-military defense. We need to shift our resources and emphasis accordingly based on what the greatest threats are. The fact that we don’t even know how Brennan defined that part of his job — and whether he was successful or not — tells us we’ve lost the big picture on our security.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @josephfcox That made me think of this: I've assumed they were getting passwords.
JimWhiteGNV RT @commongunsense: Minn. man accused in Black Lives Matter shootings reportedly subscribed to 'sovereign citizen' subculture
emptywheel @p2wy Ah, glad I asked. I read it as the latter and was wondering about why you were frequenting a bitter angry cafe.
emptywheel RT @josephfcox: These boxes steal social media passwords, Dropbox files, photos and other info via your smartphone for the cops https://t.c…
emptywheel @p2wy (bitter latte) barista or bitter (latte barista)?
emptywheel @joshgerstein Also, re that one, it felt like an extension of the SSCI Report treatment.
emptywheel @ggreenwald Re Backpage ruling, did you see this? @JesselynRadack
emptywheel @joshgerstein OK, one of my pet peeves is increased redaction of corporations. Like the guy who shut down U Chi--hiding which social media
emptywheel @joshgerstein Just one peeve? Surely you can do better. They did that on transcript for drone FOIA in 2nd C, for 2 CIA people.
emptywheel @joshgerstein But how often do you bet the cases where the judge rules with the government include similar mocking redactions?
JimWhiteGNV RT @deray: If a group of black men shot into a crowd of white people, wounding 5, they would be charged w/ attempted murder.
JimWhiteGNV RT @allisonkilkenny: Man arrested near hospital after he threatened to shoot surviving Planned Parenthood attack victim
December 2015
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