Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sunday Reading

“Stop and Frisk on Steroids” — Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic on the shameful practice in a Miami suburb.

Last year, police in Miami Gardens, Florida briefly made headlines after surveillance video captured their harassment of a black clerk at a convenience store. They stopped and questioned the man, Earl Sampson, a ludicrous 258 times. On 62 occasions, they arrested him for trespassing at his place of employment, a pattern of abuse that confounded his employer, the store’s owner. After the Miami Heraldexposed this story, it made national headlines at numerous journalistic outlets, then quickly faded into obscurity at the end of one news cycle. The scope of the abuse taking place in the police department remained unknown. The vast majority of outlets that covered the story cared too little to follow up.

Now evidence of staggering citywide abuse has come to light.

After a 6-month investigation, the TV network Fusion has documented a racist, illegal policing strategy that a local public defender calls “stop and frisk on steroids.” One Miami Gardens police officer reports that his supervisor ordered him to stop all black males between the ages of 15 and 30. Just 110,754 people live in Miami Gardens, yet going back to 2008, police have stopped and questioned 56,922 people who were not arrested. There were 99,980 total stops that did not lead to arrests, and 250 individuals were stopped more than 20 times.

Fusion also documented multiple instances of police officers falsifying official field reports, claiming to stop and question people who were actually already in county jail.

This is stellar investigative journalism.

Denzel Flowers, who is 20, has been stopped by police 27 times and arrested 4 times, but has never been convicted of anything.

While teenage, twenty-something and thirty-something black males were subjected to the most intense police harassment, Fusion also found that even some of the youngest and oldest residents in the city were deemed “suspicious” by police:

Fusion’s analysis of more than 30,000 pages of field contact reports, shows how aggressive and far-reaching the police actions were. Some residents were stopped, questioned and written up multiple times within minutes of each other, by different officers. Children were stopped by police in playgrounds. Senior citizens were stopped and questioned near their retirement home, including a 99-year-old man deemed to be “suspicious.” Officers even wrote a report identifying a five-year-old child as a “suspicious person.”

A 99-year-old man!

One imagines that the septuagenarian crime rate in Miami Gardens is quite low, Florida or not. Yet police there conducted 982 stops of individuals aged 70 and above.

[...]

This is the reality of anti-racism in American public discourse. Maximum outrage and urgent demands to do something are marshaled against offensive words. A Princeton student who critiqued the concept of white privilege in the school newspaper made national headlines and inspired numerous essays picking apart his logic. But public employees with guns harassing, intimidating, and humiliating innocent black children, because they’re black, every day in their neighborhood? Fusion published that story Thursday morning and almost no one noticed.

One Angry Father v. The N.R.A. — Kate McDonough in Salon on the man who may blunt the gun lobby.

Richard Martinez’s son Christopher was among the six college students murdered this weekend in Isla Vista, California. It’s impossible to fathom the grief that Martinez must be experiencing right now, and the simple fact that he is upright and mobile is an act of tremendous courage. Which is precisely what makes everything else that he has done in the days since he lost his son all the more astounding.

From his first public statement — a blistering and emotional indictment of “craven” politicians who refuse to act on even moderate gun reform — to the tribute to Christopher he delivered Tuesday before a crowd of thousands, Martinez has been willing to show his raw and devastating grief to the world. He has made himself the gnarled and anguished face of our broken system — the lives that it takes and the lives that it ruins. His vulnerability and righteous, focused anger is unlike anything we’ve seen in response to a mass shooting.

And it should scare the shit out of the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby and the cowardly politicians who use these deadly weapons as literal and figurative political props.

It isn’t just the force of Martinez’s emotions or political conviction that make him powerful. He is currently shouldering the unimaginable grief of being yet another parent who has lost yet another child in yet another mass shooting. He has seen this happen before, he knows the political script that’s already playing out. He has listened as gun apologists — time and again — urge the nation not to “politicize” a national tragedy out of respect for the families, and then watched them turn on these same families in order to protect our deadly — and immensely profitable — culture of guns. And he’s using it. All of it.

Days after 26 people were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, Wayne LaPierre denounced gun reform advocates for “exploit[ing] the tragedy for political gain.” Months later, Sarah Palin echoed the sentiment. ”Leaders are in it for themselves, not for the American people,” she told a crowd that summer, before effectively declaring how proud she was that her son Trig would grow up in a country where men like Elliot Rodger and Adam Lanza can buy guns and hoard ammunition without authorities batting an eyelash.

Martinez may be the single most powerful force we have against this kind of slithering political cowardice. He’s already familiar with the political dirty tricks and knows where the conversation will eventually turn — that the pro-gun crowd is going to come out hard against him, just as they have turned on other parents and survivors. “Right now, there hasn’t been much blowback from the other side,” Martinez noted during a Tuesday interview with MSNBC. “But I anticipate that once my grieving period is over, the gloves will come off. I don’t think it’s going to be easy. They are going to try to do to me the same thing that they’ve done to all of these people. But I have a message for them: My son is dead. There is nothing you could do to me that is worse than that.”

I can’t imagine a more direct rebuttal to the LaPierres and the Palins in this country.

Losing Streak — Jeffry Toobin in The New Yorker introduces us to the lawyer defending bans on marriage equality.

You think you’ve got a tough job? Try opposing same-sex marriage in the federal courts these days. That’s what Austin Nimocks does for a living (among other things). Nimocks is senior counsel for a conservative public-interest group called the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is devoted to protecting religious liberty. In recent years, the organization has been a principal legal defender of what it calls “traditional marriage.” Things have not been going so well lately.

Since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last June, in United States v. Windsor, fourteen courts have considered challenges to same-sex-marriage bans and related laws—and all fourteen have ruled in favor of marriage equality. Two weeks ago, the Washington Post did a summary of the first thirteen. Then a federal court in Pennsylvania joined the list. (It’s hard to keep up!) To summarize: same-sex marriage is now legal in nineteen states, which contain roughly forty-four per cent of the U.S. population. Judges in eleven other states have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, but those decisions are stayed pending appeals.

All of this does not discourage Nimocks, who just published a report about the state of the law on marriage around the country, and a brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage should be reinstated. “We don’t worry too much about what the district courts say,” he told me. “All that matters is how the Supreme Court comes out in the end.”

[...]

The heart of Nimocks’s argument comes down to a single word: children. Over and over again in his sixty-page brief, he asserts that the government has a legitimate interest in favoring traditional marriage because only a man and a woman can produce children. “Marriage laws have been, and continue to be, about the pragmatic business of serving society’s child-centered purposes, like connecting children to their mother and father, and avoiding the negative outcomes often experienced by children raised outside a stable family unit led by their biological parents,” he writes. He attempts to elide the obvious response—that not all opposite-sex couples want or can have children—by saying that Virginia can presume that they will. The purpose of limiting marriage to men and women “is not to ensure that all marital unions produce children. Instead, it is to channel the presumptive procreative potential of man-woman relationships into enduring marital unions so that if any children are born, they are more likely to be raised in stable family units by both their mothers and fathers.” This, then, is Nimocks’s best response to the argument (raised by Justice Elena Kagan at the oral arguments) that marriage is about more than just having children, because lots of married people can’t or don’t have them.

There is a potentially fatal flaw in Nimocks’s child-centered argument. At the oral arguments of the Windsor case, and in the Court’s opinion, one of the Justices also seemed especially interested in children. It was Justice Kennedy, the indispensable swing vote on issues of gay rights. “There are some forty-thousand children in California that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status,” Kennedy said during the arguments related to Windsor’s companion case, on California’s Proposition 8. “The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?” In his opinion in Windsor, Kennedy wrote that the Defense of Marriage Act “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” The laws that Nimocks is defending operate in much the same way—which means that his losing streak may not end when he reaches the Supreme Court.

Doonesbury — Pitch perfect.