Saturday, May 03, 2008

Selective Prosecution and Enforcement, part II

As if right on cue, my Google Reader leads me to Pandagon, who brings home the issue of understanding structural violence and instututional bias right here in L.A.:

Uh huh. Here’s yet another reason why there is distrust out there about law enforcement “protecting and serving” everyone equally.

Los Angeles Police Department officials announced Tuesday that they investigated more than 300 complaints of racial profiling against officers last year and found that none had merit — a conclusion that left members of the department’s oversight commission incredulous.

It is at least the sixth consecutive year that all allegations of racial profiling against LAPD officers have been dismissed, according to department documents reviewed by The Times. I’m sure the vast majority are claims that cannot be proven since you have to prove the officer’s intent to say, pull over a black driver more often than a white one. But the LAPD has a sorry history, and that makes it difficult for some to believe the outcome of the report.

In February, the inspector general released a report that concluded investigators frequently failed to fully investigate citizen complaints against allegedly abusive officers, often omitting or altering crucial information.

The report, and extensive media attention, sparked calls by commissioners for a review of the complaint investigation process. The issue of racial profiling reaches back into one of the department’s darkest periods. Since 2000, the department has been working to implement scores of reforms included in a federal consent decree that stems from the Rampart corruption scandal. As part of the decree, the department is required to gather and analyze racial data involving vehicle and pedestrian stops.

But conclusive figures that might indicate whether systemic racial profiling is a problem in the LAPD have remained elusive. Department and city officials early on acknowledged that the raw data collected by officers when they make a stop are unhelpful because they do not include factors such as the race of the officer, the predominant race of the neighborhood in which the stop was made, and whether the stop resulted in an arrest and conviction.

Of course it’s hard to prove, but none of the cases had any merit? Come on, let’s be real. The problem here is that the profiling is less about race in some instances, but a focus on a particular demographic (dressed in hip-hop wear, in the “wrong” neighborhood, etc.), and in that case, you will end up with young minority youth getting pulled over or searched more often. When does a law enforcement officer’s “hunch” cross the line into straight-out bias — remember, as Francis Holland pointed out in an earlier post, you can be a black police officer and be color-aroused. Check out the comments in the LAT article’s thread — they run the gamut.

The question here is about the effort to curtail the bias. Collecting all the data about the officer and the suspect/victim doesn’t

Selective Prosecution and Enforcement

Whittier College is consistently ranked as the most diverse liberal arts college in the U.S. Teaching topics such as globalization and first-year seminar here, I frequently encounter one of the challenges/strengths of having a diverse student body. For example: while Whittier students are definitely engaged, entrepreneurial, and have a very good sense of social justice, many of them, like me, come from upper-middle class backgrounds and are not exposed to structural or institutional violence such as police repression, severely underfunded schools or selective prosecution of crimes. Therefore, helping people to see through other lenses and to look at their society in novel ways has become a veritable leitmotif of my teaching, regardless of the context (global studies, language courses, first-year seminar, theater, etc.).

Well, here's a case even the most privileged can understand. The RIAA has been sending out thousands and thousands of letters to universities and colleges around the country. Somehow, Harvard has been exempt. Something tells me that it's not because Harvard freshmen are significantly more honest than the average person, so there must be something else afoot. Read to the end of the Wired posting for their take, which I tend to agree with.

It must be the water at Harvard University.

Illegal online trading of digital music files is running rampant in universities across the nation, but not at Harvard, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

The RIAA, the legal lobbying group for the music industry, has sent out hundreds if not thousands of letters to universities asking them to "remove or disable access" to infringing materials the RIAA has detected on IP addresses linked to schools ranging from MIT, Stanford, University of Chicago to UC Berkeley and dozens more.

THREAT LEVEL reported Wednesday that there is a sudden surge in these so-called take-down notices, which often are the precursors to legal action by the RIAA seeking the student's identity behind the IP address who is oftentimes then sued.

Harvard, however, seems immune from the RIAA's file-sharing campaign that commenced last year against universities. Perhaps it's something in the water system at the Cambridge, MA.-based university that is hindering Harvard students from doing what their fellow students area doing at other universities.

"Harvard hasn't gotten prelitigation letters or subpoenas asking for identification of an IP address," said Wendy Selzter, a Berkman Center for Internet & Society fellow. (A prelitigtion letter is one in which the RIAA sends to the school, and asks the school to forward to its students asking them to settle for thousands of dollars or face court action.)

Whether it’s the water, the RIAA says Harvard students are exercising file-sharing restraint.

"While we have detected incidences of theft on the Harvard network, the levels are not sufficient enough to warrant legal action. Of course, this could always change, depending on what we find," RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth tells THREAT LEVEL.

Duckworth said no school was "immune," not even Harvard.

"We try to manage our program in the most efficient and effective way possible with the resources that we have," Duckworth said. "When we detect certain levels of piracy on school networks we reserve the right to bring legal action."

Seltzer had her own theory about the RIAA's tactics. "It might be that somebody doesn’t want to go against the Harvard legal team or endowment or law faculty or brand," she said.

Perhaps the RIAA doesn't wish to make waves with the next-generation of the rich and powerful. Also, Charles Nesson, of the Berkman Center at Harvard, has told the RIAA in an open letter "to take a hike." [my emphasis]

Nesson, as part of his evidence class, also requires students to draft motions quashing a subpoena from the RIAA demanding the identity behind a university IP address.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Friday Word Blogging: Disappointless

Disappointless (adj.):

Used to describe a feeling or situation that is simultaneously disappointing and pointless. Example: "After months of frustrating effort without result, the committee could only term the situation as 'disappointless.'"

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Day of Prayer

It's May Day and that means we should celebrate the working class.

Let's start again.

It's May Day and that means we should talk about "mission accomplished".

Oops. Let's start again.

It's May Day and it's a National Day of Prayer!

Here's PZ Meyers:

Today is actually the National Day of Prayer. Really. Let that sink in for a moment.

We have regional coordinating groups — Minnesota is having events at the Capitol today. Did you know that prayer is "America's strength and shield"? I didn't. Our governor has issued a proclamation asking citizens to "open our hearts in thanksgiving". It's a weird document. It announces that we have all these problems like poverty and sickness and crime, and then declares that we've been strengthened by the "conscience-based actions of people of faith" … I guess we people of reason don't have consciences, and I think it's setting the bar awfully low anyway to declare prayer an "action". It's more like an inaction, with lame excuses.

The head wackaloon of this year's National Day of Futility is Shirley Dobson … of those Dobsons, the fundagelically evil kooks behind Focus on the Family. This was supposed to be an ecumenical event, as near as something that celebrates religious idiocy can be ecumenical, but it has since evolved into an exclusively evangelical Christian church service, sponsored by our federal government. Using her vast powers as chair of the national task force, Dobson requires her coordinators to sign this statement of faith.

I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God. I believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, the atoning work of his shed blood, his resurrection and ascension, his intercession and his coming return to power and glory. I believe that those who follow Jesus are family and there should be unity among all who claim his name. I agree that these statements are true in my life.

Hello, Jews and Moslems! Nice to see you're joining us atheists in rejecting prayer. Oh, you're not? Well, at least we'll be able to keep each other company with all the other second-class citizens.

Fuck the National Day of Prayer.

I can scarcely believe my country is officially pandering to such willful stupidity — elevating evangelical kooks to positions of prestige, trumpeting the virtues of sectarian religion, and actually crediting the successes of America to the fact that a subset of deluded, demented fools sit on their asses and beg an invisible man to protect us and help us kill people in foreign countries. What a waste, and what an encouragement of further waste.

I feel like just declaring this the official National Day of Derangement and writing it all off, maybe spit in the soup of people who say grace, or flip off any group I catch trying to do a collective exercise in ritual invocation of nonexistent beings, but the Minnesota Atheists have a more productive idea: they are calling this a National Day of Reason and are setting up to demonstrate in the Minnesota capitol in St Paul today. They actually have a prime position, and all the legislators leaving their workplace to join in the National Day of Inanity will have to troop by them. In my dreams, these politicians would feel a little sense of shame at the foolishness of the official events, but in reality, I'm sure they won't.

Mission Accomplished

As Juan Cole reminds us, it's been 5 (f-i-v-e) years since Bush was flown onto an aircraft carrier and gave a speech in front of a "Mission Accomplished" sign.

Throughout the years, I've often wondered whether the administration actually thought it was that simple, or whether they knew and hoped for what has been happening. The truth probably is in the middle, but either way those of us who have lived to witness the unfolding war have seen one of the great criminal enterprises of our time--planned and executed by our leaders at the cost of thousands of solidier's lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Here's Juan Cole's excerpt from the speech. His comments can be found [].

. . . major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. . .

And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country. . .

In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty and for the peace of the world. . .

Because of you our nation is more secure. . . [Note that he is trying to attribute to the poor enlisted men his policies.] . . .

In the images of fallen statues we have witnessed the arrival of a new era. . . [The statue was pulled down by the US military and the whole thing was staged before a tiny Iraqi crowd, the small size of which media close-ups disguised.] . . .

In defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Allied forces destroyed entire cities, while enemy leaders who started the conflict were safe until the final days. Military power was used to end a regime by breaking a nation. Today we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. . . [The US has probably directly killed about 200,000 Iraqis and destroyed the city of Fallujah as well as damaging and repeatedly bombing others. Bush's fascist attempt to reconfigure warfare as a humanitarian gesture is the biggest lie of all] . . .

Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. [Foreign military occupation is not generally considered 'liberty' by most people.] . . .

We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. [The sites were being investigated before the war, and nothing was being found, so Bush pulled out the inspectors and went to war. Nothing ever was found.] . . .

Our coalition will stay until our work is done and then we will leave and we will leave behind a free Iraq. [When will that be exactly?] . . .

In the battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban . . . [ Maybe not so much; this 'mission accomplished' passage has not been sufficiently criticized] . . .

The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaida and cut off a source of terrorist funding. [There was no operational connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. None. And the US occupation of Iraq gave al-Qaeda a new lease on life ] . . .

We are committed to freedom in Afghanistan, Iraq and in a peaceful Palestine. . . [90% of the world fell down laughing at that point in the speech; only gullible, self-righteous Americans could even think about taking this snow job seriously] . . .

Monday, April 28, 2008