Commentary: Policy & Law

Gun Laws Journalism People Policy & Law Politics

Annapolis

Fifteen years as a newspaperman taught me a few select things. One is this: It is the god-given right of every American to resent or even hate his local newspaper. Indeed, it is our birthright to hate any and every news organization, print or broadcast. It is not certain that you will avail yourself of that right, or that you will invoke it consistently if you do, but it is there for you whenever life doesn’t go the way you want. Your hometown newspaper will highlight your most embarrassing utterance at the PTA hearing or detail your company’s bankruptcy, just as it will at some point ignore your daughter’s performance in the school play or miss the zoning hearing at which a porn shop is dropped a block and a half from your son’s middle school. It will herald some political views you abhor and denigrate some politicians you wish to cheer. It will spell your name incorrectly when you are named the Rotarian of the Year and dox you with precision when you are cuffed and processed for...

Read more
Drug War Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism On the Drug War Policy & Law

Ain’t no justice. It’s just us.

In light of the frustration that many feel in the wake of this week’s mistrial in the first Freddy Gray prosecution, I thought I’d dig out an old newspaper clip. Written by veteran police reporter Roger Twigg and myself, it is an account of another Baltimorean who died in the back of a police wagon, and the early stages of an investigation that went nowhere once prosecutors, a city grand jury and police union lawyers did their business. In this instance, now nearly a quarter century old, the sustained injuries were not to the victim’s spinal cord, but to his spleen and his ribs. In this instance, the prisoner was also clearly in distress and ignored.  In this case, the wagon man rode the victim around Baltimore not for 45 minutes without medical assistance, but for a full hour. In this instance, the wagon man actually told other prisoners not to step on the prone victim, because, he said, the man had AIDS. And in this case, too, as with Mr. Gray, there was...

Read more
Policy & Law Politics

American torture

Here’s the sad fucking truth: Our democracy, our republic, is very much weaker than we imagine if this report can only see the light of day after our government first issued preemptory promises not to prosecute the persons that did these things to other human beings in our names, or ordered that these things be done to other human beings in our names. That there are elements of the American government still arguing against this cold blast of truth, offering up the craven fear that the rest of the world might see us as we actually are, or that our enemies will perhaps use the evidence of our sadism to justify violent retribution or political maneuver — this further cowardice only adds to the national humiliation. This is not one of the world’s great powers behaving as such, and it is certainly no force for good in the world.  This might as well be the Spanish national amnesia following the death of Franco, or a post-war West Germany without the stomach for the...

Read more
Drug War Gun Laws Policy & Law

The endgame for American civic responsibility Pt. III

Note:  These essays were, of course, written before St. Louis County prosecutors and Ferguson police relented and revealed the identity of the officer sho shot and killed Mr. Brown.  Both the cost to their credibility in the delay inherent in their delay and to the civil peace of that town remains relevant, however.  Moreover, the problem with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies nationally trying to maintain anonymity in such incidents is on the rise. So the essays stand as argument,  regardless.  – DS   August 14, 2014 Mr. Thomas Jackson Chief of Police Ferguson, Missouri   Chief Jackson: Regard this as an open letter in light of your department’s unwillingness to properly identify the officer involved in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in your jurisdiction this last week. Understand that I am someone with a high regard for good police work.  I covered a large municipal department for a dozen years and spent that time writing in detail on...

Read more
Drug War Gun Laws Policy & Law

The endgame for American civic responsibility Pt. II

Seven years later, from the Baltimore City Paper of February 12, 2009, as the militarization of American police work continued apace, infecting not merely the federal agencies so much less accountible to individual jurisdictions, but municipal police departments that claimed to be directly in the service of specific communities: Police work, it is said, is only easy in a police state.  So welcome to the city of Baltimore, where a police officer who uses lethal force and takes human life is no longer required to stand behind his or her actions and suffer the scrutiny of the public he or she serves, where the identity of those officers who use lethal force will no longer be known, where our communities are now asked to trust in the judgment of those who clearly don’t trust us. A 61-year-old Baltimorean is dead, shot by a Southeastern District Officer Feb. 17. His death may well be a reasonable, if tragic outcome. It may even be good police work, though any veteran city prosecutor will...

Read more
Drug War Policy & Law

Lost in a symptom: The Nation on marijuana reform

The surest way to ensure the continued abuse of people of color under the auspices of the drug war is to reduce or eliminate any corresponding threat to white Americans.  This seems to me to be such a fundamental of realpolitik in the United States that I’m still a little bit astonished that The Nation, in a recent assessment of marijuana reform efforts and racial bias, can’t see any forest from the trees. Not a single fact about marijuana use and the racial bias that law enforcement exhibits with regard to the drug is askew, of course.  I agree with the article’s author, Dr. Carl Hart of Columbia University, on his entire statistical premise: “Consider a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union showing that black people are two to over seven times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than their white counterparts, despite the fact that both groups use marijuana at similar rates,” notes Dr. Hart.  “These disparities held up even...

Read more
Gun Laws Policy & Law

Doubling down

Among many, many others of similar passion: pat stevens [email protected]  david simon, I hope a black guy punches you right in the fucking face just for being white.. Michael Bailey [email protected] David Simon A Jewish man… “One less Jew to answer, One less Jew (cont) Willy Scanlon [email protected] @7sMRD313 Then David Simon should leave for Israel with the rest of the Fucking Jews who think that they own this country.   Robert Aguilar Jr. [email protected] David Simon can take the first Asiana flight the fuck out of here too!! My actual words: “Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American.” *        *        * Some random moments in my lifetime when I have been intensely proud of my country: 1.  “Ich bin ein Berliner” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” 2.   The arrival of U.S. carriers off the shores of Indonesia after a devastating tsunami. 3.   Standing...

Read more
Gun Laws Policy & Law

Comments on Martin-Zimmerman. To reiterate:

If you go to the original post on the verdict itself, entitled “Trayvon,” you will find more than five hundred posts in which all of the issues regarding the case were debated to the point of repetition over more than 48 hours, after which, as every new comment in the last several hundred had already been addressed, we closed the comments to preserve the give-and-take of the debate — debate becing one of the fundamental goals of the website. The dynamic is explained in greater detail in the subsequent and concluding post, “Trayvon: Calling It.”  Commentary on that post is naturally being limited to a discussion about the debate dynamic here.  A third post stands only as a corrective to the false claim that I was exhorting anyone to riot, and that the reductive medium of Twitter was being so utilized.  Commentary there is being limited largely to a discussion of the claim and the uses or misuses of Twitter. If you have a point to argue about the issue...

Read more
Gun Laws Policy & Law

More proof that twitter sucks. (Updated)

A new top to this, apparently:  A reader has informed me that Mr. Podhoretz has apologized for the mischaracterization of the quote.  That was manful, and direct.  So while this post remains as a means of reaffirming the actual intent of what I wrote, it should be acquired henceforth with the knowledge that Mr. Podhoretz appears to have been unaware of the full context when he tweeted.  Mr. Kurtz remains in the wind, but due respect to Mr. Podhoretz. *       *       * Willful stupidity or rank intellectual dishonesty?  With these two fellows and their output, there is really no third choice that can be legitimately considered:              John Podhoretz [email protected] David Simon says he would have thrown brick at courthouse if he were a person of color in FLA. Why shouldn’t he attack it as a white guy? HowardKurtz [email protected] Ugh: Wire’s David Simon: If I were a person of color in Florida, I would pick up a brick and start walking toward that courthouse in Sanford...

Read more
Policy & Law

Chickens, coming home.

What follows is an exchange from the commentary section after I wrote last year that the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office unwillingness to pursue all but the most winnable murder cases — and a corresponding decline in the number of charged defendants by anywhere from 33 to 45 percent, depending on the time frame — would eventually result in a bump in the homicide rate for the city. Beginning with a certain Mr. Darrow, whose moniker suggests that he may labor at the Mitchell Courthouse, though I have no way of knowing, obviously: June 18, 2012 at 10:41 p.m. CLARENCE DARROW says: One question: if what you say here is true, why hasn’t the murder rate in Baltimore skyrocketed? Nine percent seems like it could be a seasonal/sociological blip. June 18, 2012 1t 11:33 p.m. DAVID SIMON says: Of what, exactly, are you skeptical? That the deterrent against repeat violent offenders has been found to have one of the most direct correlations to a city’s crime rate? Sorry...

Read more
Policy & Law Politics

NSA and FISA commentary: Calling it.

Okay, folks, I want to thank everyone, sincerely, for engaging in what has been for the most part an aggressive, sincere and genuinely relevant discussion of the Verizon data controversy.  At points, I looked around and thought that the debate at this little corner of the web was far more specific and rooted than much of what occupied the op-eds and 24-hour cable channels.  You all brought a lot into the mix.  And with rare exception, everyone stayed largely on substance and avoided ad hominem and other rank fallacy. For my part, I remain convinced that the Verizon call data should be used as a viable data base for counter-terror investigations and that its misuse should be greeted with the hyperbole that currently adorns the present moment.  On the other hand, the arguments of others convinced me that while I still believe the differences between call data and a wiretap are profound, and that the standard for obtaining call data has been and should remain far more modest for law...

Read more
Policy & Law Politics

We are shocked, shocked…

Is it just me or does the entire news media — as well as all the agitators and self-righteous bloviators on both sides of the aisle — not understand even the rudiments of electronic intercepts and the manner in which law enforcement actually uses such intercepts? It would seem so. Because the national eruption over the rather inevitable and understandable collection of all raw data involving telephonic and internet traffic by Americans would suggest that much of our political commentariat, many of our news gatherers and a lot of average folk are entirely without a clue. You would think that the government was listening in to the secrets of 200 million Americans from the reaction and the hyperbole being tossed about. And you would think that rather than a legal court order which is an inevitable consequence of legislation that we drafted and passed, something illegal had been discovered to the government’s shame. Nope. Nothing of the kind. Though apparently, the U.K.’s...

Read more
Policy & Law

“Do You Know Who I Am?”

I’m not much on tabloid gossip as news content, but Reese Witherspoon’s encounter with an Atlanta police officer, in which she tried to prevent her husband’s arrest during a traffic stop by playing the celebrity card, brings to mind one of my favorite Baltimore police stories. I just gotta let fly. As to Ms. Witherspoon, who has already apologized, I offer only sympathy.  While I understand  it looks horseshit after the fact to be caught wielding fame in such fashion, the more honest and less hypocritical assessment is that all of us will use any card we think we have at the moment that our better half is taking cuffs. We gave to the FOP lodge this year?  A cousin is a state trooper?  A brother in law is a federal prosecutor? You loved Hill Street Blues?  Rodney King deserved as good an ass-whipping as he got?  Admit it, and lose the self-righteous sneer: If you could rightly claim that you were third in line to the British Crown and could get the Secretary of State...

Read more
Gun Laws Policy & Law

Newtown, Conn.

  I’ve sat facing my computer a few times since those school children were massacred, attempting on each pass to write something that expresses anything honest about the slaughter, about this horror show that we call modern, post-millenial America.  Elsewhere, I have read the words of people who are so devastated by this event that they cannot think of what to say, or who to blame, or how to bring our country to some better place.  As if words or ideas are no longer sufficient or useful against something as elemental to our society and culture as firearms. For me, this isn’t the problem.  For me, the struggle goes to an opposite extreme.  Each time I start to write about this tragedy, my head begins to hurt.  And too soon, I sense that all of the contempt and bile I feel for America’s continuing worship of the gun will pour out onto the digital page,  that any meaningful argument I hope to express will be lost in my low regard for those in my country —...

Read more
Policy & Law

A brutal reprise in Florida

In regard to the senseless shooting death of another young black male in the state of Florida, I think that there is little that hasn’t been said already.  How many different ways can we describe the Kafkaesque upending of American jurisprudence through stand-your-ground laws nationwide?  Who has to die before those responsible for this horror show have a moment of self-reflection?  Certainly, someone other than a black teenager.  It’s bad enough that we have become a culture that now codifies its respect for property, or real estate, or human pride above a fundamental and once-paramount respect for human life.  Now, it seems, with the death of Mr. Davis at the hands of Mr. Dunn, we have defenders of the assailant actually suggesting that the right to end an argument about loud music with lethal force has a place under these vile statutes.   To that end, let’s simply repost an earlier essay written for the Miami Herald and archived elsewhere on this website.  The...

Read more
Policy & Law Posts by Subject

You did it, Mr. Bernstein. Now own it.

That elected officials will lie, dissemble and reverse course to avoid a proper public accounting is no remarkable thing.  Politicians, bless their hearts, are very much akin to those fabled pigeons in B.F. Skinner’s boxes.  If they peck diligently at the little metal bar, they expect to receive — every two or four or six years — another food pellet, or failing that, a painful electrical charge. It’s no wonder that such constricted and vulnerable creatures gravitate toward reptilian moments.  Other than to let the lower brain hold sway, how can an elected officials be sure to acquire the certain and scheduled pleasure and avoid the certain and scheduled pain? Often, the lies are nuanced and careful, lodged as they are in relative safety of vague generalities and uncertain facts.  An equivocation works best when there isn’t a long, contradictory reality trailing behind.  But every now and then, someone lets go of something so bald, so shameless that it’s just plain amusing...

Read more
Policy & Law

Fourth and long. Delegate Burns needs to punt.

If you haven’t enjoyed this elsewhere already, here’s the background: Recently, Baltimore Raven linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo angered State Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr for publicly speaking in favor of Maryland’s legislation for marriage equality. Delegate Burns wrote to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti: “I am requesting that you take the necessary action … to inhibit such expressions from your employee.” Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe heard about this.  He penned the following: Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr., I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words): 1. As I suspect you have not read the...

Read more
Policy & Law Posts by Subject

Dirt Under The Rug

This is the dry story of a statistic. By which, I mean to say, it is a story that today’s newspaper is no longer equipped to cover very well. And it is certainly not a story that could be easily gleaned by anyone who hasn’t at some point been a full-time beat reporter, a veteran who has covered an institution like, say, the Baltimore Police Department or the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office for year after year, learning to look behind the curtains, knowing enough not to accept a stat at face value. You’re reading it here because I once covered crime in Baltimore for a decade and a half, and because I still live in Baltimore and still spend time now and then with detectives and lawyers in that ville. And after years of shared experience, some still talk freely enough in my company. I have no doubt that a few simplistic souls will note that this is appearing on a blog, and that I am therefore, technically, a blogger. And if the story itself finds any...

Read more

Send this to a friend