Philadelphians don’t have any problem figuring out what happened to Freddie Gray, the 25-year old black man who died as a result of a severed spine at the neck while being transported in a police van by Baltimore Police.
Here in Philadelphia, Police have long enjoyed giving arrested men who mouth off to them during arrests what is known fondly in the department as a “nickel ride.” That’s where they put the prisoner in the back of the van, hands bound behind their backs so they cannot hold on to anything or protect themselves, and otherwise unrestrained. Then the driver of the vehicle accelerates repeatedly, whips around corners and periodically slams on the breaks, causing the helpless captive in the back to slam against various parts of the vehicle, often with his head.
Back in 2001, an investigative journalism series run by the Philadelphia Inquirer exposed the practice, which had led to numerous injuries of arrested people, and to secret payouts by the department to some of those most grievously hurt, including one man who was paralyzed from the neck down by a spinal injury similar to that suffered by Gray. He received a payment of $1.2 million, the newspaper reported.
The Inquirer exposé led calls for a halt to the criminal practice, but a 2013 article in the same publication reported that police were back at it again, with at least three serious incidents that led to a lawsuit against the department. One of those victims, 31-year-old Ryan Roberts, a burglary suspect, was delivered to the hospital with injuries all over his body, including to the back of his head. He died later. Though the cause of death was listed by the hospital as “cocaine intoxication,” the lawsuit alleges that he died of his injuries, sustained in the van ride, when he was left unrestrained in the back of the vehicle.
In the Baltimore case, a lawyer hired by Gray’s family says that though he was dragged, unresisting, into the van at the time police picked him up, and was yelling at the cops holding him, when he arrived at the hospital, he was immobile and his spine was “80-percent severed” at the neck. That’s the kind of injury that is hard to cause without a brutal amount of force — the kind of thing that could only be delivered by a deliberate twisting of the neck, or by the body being rammed against an immovable object — exactly the kind of thing that can happen in a Philadelphia Police van “nickel ride.”
Baltimore, a city with a large African American population, and a police department that has a history of abusive arrests, is reportedly on edge. The mayor and the police chief have both expressed concern about Gray’s death and an investigation is underway into what happened, with six officers involved in his detention and in the van ride currently suspended, but so far, city officials have been circumspect, saying they don’t know what happened between the time of his arrest, when he was seen shouting and later reportedly asking for help, and his delivery to the hospital, when he was no longer talking or breathing.
But they aren’t talking about the obvious reality a spine isn’t something that gets broken during a van ride, unless the victim has been left unrestrained in the back, and unless the driver is deliberately driving recklessly in an attempt to seriously hurt you.
This is just the latest example of a nationwide problem: murderous police brutality directed against the poor, and especially against blacks and latinos and other people of color.
Viewed from Philadelphia, what happened to Freddie Gray appears to be no less a murder than the gunning down of Walter Scott with five shots to the back by a North Charleston, SC police officer.
Until police start doing serious time for these crimes, and until the politicians who hire them and keep them on the street start losing their jobs, they will keep occurring.
Baltimore police said Freddie Gray, who died in their custody after being arrested, was not buckled in when he was being transported and that officers “failed to give medical attention in a timely manner multiple times.”
Speaking at a press conference Friday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts updated the media about the ongoing investigation. He acknowledged that Gray, who died about a week after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in custody, was never strapped in with a seatbelt as department policy requires.
Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis added that Baltimore police should have administered medical attention at the site of Gray’s apprehension –presumably because he was already hurt.
Europe’s largest arms manufacture BAE Systems has become the main sponsor of an under-performing school in the North West of England.
From September the arms marker, which operates a dockyard in Barrow-in-Furness, will run the Furness Academy, which was created under the coalition government’s academies scheme by joining together three failing schools in the area.
BAE previously tried to donate £400,000 to the academy in 2007, while the firm was under investigations of corrupt dealings.
The arms company is responsible for the construction of nuclear submarines at its base in the town, which are used in the controversial Trident program. The firm had a £15.4 billion turnover in 2014.
BAE has set up a trust to run the school under its submarine-building arm. Campaigners worry the move will have an impact on the curriculum.
Sam Robinson, university coordinator for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), called the decision “deeply worrying.”
“The idea [BAE] could soon be playing a significant role in running one of our schools is deeply worrying.
“It … gives them direct access to potential future employees and often allows them to influence the curriculum to suit their employment needs.”
Robinson said the move means the school would be run on “profits from selling arms to some of the world’s most oppressive dictators.”
The arms company will be tasked with boosting the academy’s performance. The school has been in special measures since 2012, following a spate of poor Ofsted inspection results. The schools’ watchdog says improvements have been much too slow.
Tony Johns, the managing director of BAE Systems Submarines, said in a statement: “We have for a long time supported local education at primary, secondary and college level, and see this positive step as an extension to our commitment in helping Furness Academy provide its students with the best possible education.”
BAE has not issued a comment on the agreement.
Mallen Baker, a strategic advisor for corporate social responsibility, told Schools Week it was quite normal for local companies to invest in local education and, despite BAE’s arms dealings, the firm is simply investing in the future of the town.
“Employers recognize that the quality of local recruits is influenced hugely by their quality of education,” he said. “Companies that invest in the local community will also get higher loyalty rates.
“With BAE there is an additional factor – they deal with a controversial product. But armament is essential for the defense of the country and we believe in the right for our countries to defend themselves.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s top official, Michele Leonhart, resigned this week, presumably after it came out that many of her agents partied with prostitutes hired by drug cartels. But there is really much more to the story.
“She’s been at the agency for 35 years, and her tenure since taking over in 2007 has been marked by a series of abuses, failures and missteps,” wrote David Graham at The Atlantic. “In fact, the proximate cause for Leonhart’s exit is the eminently more headline-ready case of DEA agents having sex parties with prostitutes.”
Graham cited a number of other reasons why Leonhart should have been forced out of the DEA some time back. Among them:
• In 2002, the inspector general (IG) of the Justice Department sounded an alarm about weapons losses at the DEA. Six years later, the IG discovered that the rate of those losses had more than doubled.
• In April 2012, drug suspect Daniel Chong was arrested by DEA agents who locked him in a jail cell without food, water or a toilet and forgot about him for nearly five days. Other agents heard his cries for help but ignored him. By the time Chong was released, his health was so bad he had to be taken to a hospital.
• In May 2012, the DEA worked on a drug sting in Honduras in which four people, including two women and a child, were shot dead. Witnesses said that all four were innocent.
• In June 2013, a DEA informant who had received nearly $4 million from the agency was fired for repeatedly committing perjury—but was then rehired later to work on DEA undercover cases.
• In August 2013, it was revealed that the DEA had been giving information from massive surveillance, wiretaps, and undercover agents to local police, who were told by the DEA to conceal the source of the information from defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges.
“The contour of the story gives the nagging impression that despite years of issues, the salacious, sexy headline is what pushed Leonhart out, whereas the systemic failures over the last decade received [very little] sanction…” wrote Graham. “It’s not that the outrage in this case is misplaced—it’s that it’s a day late and a trillion dollars short.”
To Learn More:
Why Did It Take a Sex Scandal to Topple the DEA Chief? (by David Graham, The Atlantic)
Why is the DEA Conducting Mass License Plate Tracking and Why was it Allowed to Conduct Mass Surveillance of Americans’ Phones Records? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
DEA Paid Amtrak Secretary $850,000 for Passenger Lists Available for Free (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
DEA Tries to Strongarm Physicians Connected to Marijuana Dispensaries (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)
DEA Chief’s Bizarre Defense of Marijuana Prohibition (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
And it must be stopped in the Senate.
In what can only be described as a travesty for responsible, transparent lawmaking, the House of Representatives just passed a Frankenstein monster of a “cybersecurity information sharing” bill that will massively expand government surveillance authorities if it’s not defeated in the Senate.
And, to rub salt in the wound, House leadership used arcane procedural tricks to block privacy-protective amendments and to privilege the version of the bill preferred by the House intelligence committee, which is more privacy invasive than the version passed by the Committee on Homeland Security. *
The bill that passed would, if adopted by the Senate, create a new and secretive cybersecurity spy agency, broadly authorize the sharing of personal information with the NSA, and allow its use in ways that look a lot like the surveillance programs revealed over the past two years.
The House’s draft will now go to the Senate, which has an even worse bill waiting in the wings. Just as the privacy and civil liberties community is engaged in a battle to reform the Patriot Act or allow it to expire, we are being forced to simultaneously jump start our efforts against a major new surveillance offensive—these so-called “cybersecurity” bills that will do little to better protect our computers, but will give the government vast new authority to spy on us without any reason to think we’ve done anything wrong.
Now, calling these bills “surveillance” authorities is a serious charge. To understand why it’s warranted takes a bit of explanation.
First, it’s important to understand what we mean by “information sharing.” Right now, private companies have broad authority to share cyber threat information both among themselves and with the government. They also have the authority to monitor their own computers for hacking or data theft. There are, however, important privacy protections in existing laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) that limit the sharing of sensitive, personally identifiable information absent an exception, of which there are several.
The House bill cuts through all of those existing privacy protections. It says “notwithstanding any law,” companies can share “cyber” information among themselves and with the government, and be virtually immune from lawsuit or criminal exposure in doing so. In other words, “information sharing” is a bit of a misnomer; it’s more accurate to call it a sweeping new exception to all existing privacy laws.
The House bill does require a company to review and remove anything that it reasonably believes at the time of sharing to be personal and not directly related to the cyber threat. But that’s weaker protection than it sounds because it doesn’t restrict sharing to only the information necessary to address the cyber threat. In other words, as long as the company has an argument that the information is plausibly “directly” related to the threat, it can share with impunity, even if there’s no reason for the government to have it.
But, the “surveillance” piece of the bill really happens at the next step: what the government can do with personal information shared by companies once it’s disseminated. The House Intelligence bill will require that, once all the information not stripped is shared with the government, it all flows automatically to the military, including the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (which then can/will share with the CIA, presumably).
Once there, the information can be used for purposes far removed from cybersecurity. The House Intelligence bill would permit federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to use the information for a wide array of non-cybercrimes, including violations of the Espionage Act, which has been deployed by the Obama administration to aggressively prosecute national security whistleblowers and investigate reporters like James Risen, who was almost forced to disclose his source for a story in which the CIA screwed up and gave Iran information that could lead to a nuclear weapon.
Our colleagues at the Open Technology Institute, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have exhaustively catalogued the serious civil liberties, privacy, and open government issues with the House bills that were voted on today. We’ve also signed a letter with transparency and media law groups in strong opposition to the House intelligence bill for, among other things, allowing use in Espionage Act cases.
Now the fight turns to the Senate. And, unless the privacy and civil liberties communities really go all out, things are bleak. This is, after all, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), despite the two-year drumbeat of revelations of mass surveillance of individuals suspected of no wrongdoing, has introduced a bill to reauthorize the Patriot Act, without any privacy protections, until 2020. Unless the community hits the bricks—as we did over CISPA in 2013—we will lose.
There’s lots we can and should be doing to improve cybersecurity, including encouraging the use of encryption, facilitating information sharing among private sector entities, and safeguarding critical infrastructure. What we shouldn’t be doing, however, is passing a bill that gives even more personal information on innocent individuals to the NSA and allowing that information to be mined for purposes unrelated to protecting against hackers. That’s exactly what these bills do, and it’s entirely fair to call them what they are: new surveillance powers.
* There’s a bit of legislative arcana to unpack here. Today, the House passed the version of the bill proposed by the House Committee on Homeland Security. Yesterday, it passed the House Intelligence Committee draft, which is worse for privacy. Next comes “engrossment,”where the House clerk finalizes the draft that goes over for Senate considerationby mashing the two bills together without change to any of the substantive provisions. This means that, for instance, the broader use authorizations in the House Intelligence Committee bill will co-exist alongside the narrower authorizations in the Homeland Security bill.
Practically, and especially if the Senate passes a bill that looks more like the House intelligence committee bill, this gives the House intelligence committee bill a significant advantage in whatever process the two chambers decide on to reconcile differences between their respective bills. In other words, even though the House passed two competing bills, the House intelligence committee bill is more likely to survive intact in negotiations with the Senate. Most of the more privacy protective provisions in the other bill are likely to drop off.
This is particularly concerning given that the Homeland Security bill passed with broader support than the House intelligence committee bill (307 to 116 versus 355 to 63). While we oppose both bills, the fact that the House intelligence committee bill has effectively become the base bill to reconcile with the Senate is, indeed, salt in the wound.
The National Security Agency summoned the editor-in-chief of the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm and four of the newspaper’s journalists for investigations on Tuesday, following the publication of a controversial report documenting police violations.
Published last Sunday, “Police martyrs and sins: Holes in the uniform of the police” is a seven-page spread documenting recent police violations and individual cases against policemen. The report also highlights policemen who were killed in action, acknowledging their sacrifices.
The NSA summoned editor-in-chief Mahmoud Mosallam and journalists Yosry al-Badry, Mostafa Makhlouf, Hassan Ahmed Hussein and Ibrahim Qaraa for questioning pertaining to the report.
The investigation was postponed to April 26 at the request of Journalists Syndicate head Yehia Qallash to allow more time for the journalists in question to be notified and for syndicate members to attend the questioning, since the summons was only issued late on Monday, the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported.
Ahmed Ragab, chief editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm’s news site, declined to comment on the case.
The Interior Ministry issued a statement on Sunday calling the report in question “unprofessional,” and asserting that it would take legal action against the newspaper. The ministry said that the paper wrote the report in retaliation against the referral of its journalist, Yosry al-Badry, and former editor-in-chief to prosecution last December.
Badry was referred to the prosecution at the behest of the National Security Agency over a story he published on a suicide bombing that targeted the Ministry of Interior in Daqahlia.
In a statement published on Monday, the Journalists Syndicate denounced what it called the Interior Ministry’s “attempts to intimidate colleagues,” decrying the ministry’s response to the report as a “restriction on the freedom of the press.”
The increase in complaints filed against journalists “opens the door for restricting freedoms, instead of closing it,” the syndicate said.
The statement added that the ministry should have investigated the violations in the report and provided answers to the public, instead of taking legal action against the journalists.
The syndicate will issue a memo to the general prosecutor, reiterating the legal guarantees pertaining to publishing cases, the statement concluded.
Gamal Eid, head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told Mada Masr that there isn’t enough information on the dynamics behind the recent conflicts between state institutions and media outlets, many of which were aligned with the state until recently. He speculates that two factors could be at play.
“The brutality of the Interior Ministry has really increased, meaning ignoring police violations is worse than under Mubarak,” he said. “It became an issue newspapers couldn’t ignore.” Another explanation is that state institutions are pitting newspapers against each other, Eid said.
“We know that the military, intelligence services, national security and all these institutions have their own men in certain newspapers, and each of them is more loyal to a certain publication. It’s possible that one institution agreed to attack another,” he claimed.
Last week, a journalist at the privately owned Al-Dostour newspaper was arrested on allegations that he had waged a campaign against the Ministry of Interior. The privately owned Al-Watan newspaper was forced to remove a report on tax evasion by state institutions from publication last month, and in October, Al-Masry Al-Youm was impelled to rescind an interview with a security agent.
Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief investgator advises “Ukrainophobes” to keep quiet for their own safety
The Head of the investigation department of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Vasily Vovk, advises “Ukrainophobes” to stop their rhetoric for their own safety following the recent murders of government critics in Ukraine. He said this on the ICTV television program Freedom of Speech on the evening of April 20.
“As the head of the Investigation Department, I believe that at present time, when there’s practically a war out there, the Ukrainophobes should either shut up or tone down their rhetoric to zero. No one should be taking a stand against Ukraine and Ukrainian-ness,”
Responding to a question about whether he has a scientific or legal definition of ‘Ukrainophobia’, Vovk said, “There’s none. But we do know what we’re talking about.”
As reported by Korrespondent.net, Oleg Kalashnikov, former member of the Party of Regions and member of the Verkhovna Rada, fifth convocation, was shot dead in Kiev on April 15. The journalist and writer, Oles Buzina, was gunned down in the capital near the entrance of his house on the afternoon of April 16.
President Petro Poroshenko has urged a prompt investigation of the murders of Kalashnikov and Buzina.
Translation to English by New Cold War.org.
By Ben Schreiner | Global Research | April 21, 2015
Using the recent spree of high profile police murders as the latest catalyst, calls to outfit all cops with some sort of body camera are once again reverberating nationally. But given the staggering amounts of personal data on the American people police agencies are already collecting, the proposals to lend the police one more surveillance device raises significant privacy concerns.
Speaking on the repercussions of the police murder of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, a former opponent of body cams, recently remarked, “I think it is a game-changer. What you’ll see is a movement now by many more police departments to go to cameras.”
Indeed, the city of North Charleston has already announced plans to equip its entire police force with body cameras. This comes on the heels of President Obama announcement last December that the federal government would purchase 50,000 body cams for state and local police agencies in response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
For their proponents, body cameras promise to provide much needed accountability to the nation’s police agencies and their officers, who continue to gun down Americans at an alarming rate, while still mostly managing to allude prosecution. And as advocates note, limited study of such police cameras have already yielded seemingly promising results. In Rialto, California, for instance, a controlled study found a 60% decline in use of force by officers equipped with body cameras. Cops, to no surprise of anyone who has ever sought to film an on-duty officer, are all too cognizant of the power of recorded video (especially, we might add, when such video is in the hands of citizens).
But the anecdotal evidence championed by body camera backers aside, such police cams offer at best a flawed check on police abuse and brutality, and at worst portend a further bolstering of the already dystopian surveillance capabilities of law enforcement agencies.
The Limits of Police Body Cams
To begin with, as should be readily evident, police body cameras only work when officers turn them on. So in the case of the slaying of Walter Scott in South Carolina, even if Officer Michael Slager had been equipped with a body cam, there is no guarantee it would have captured his shooting of Scott; Slager could have simply turned it off. Indeed, a trial use of body cameras by Denver, Colorado police from June to December of 2014 saw less than half of all encounters involving the use of force actually recorded by camera equipped officers.
(And yet even when police brutality is captured on video and viewed publicly, accountability for officers is hardly guaranteed. The death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City cops was, after all, captured on film, but no officers were charged in his death.)
For those police body cams that actually are recording, however, all data collected is often held and stored by the police themselves; that is, the very people the cameras are meant to hold to account. As the Washington Post reported, “Officials in more than a dozen states—as well as the District [of Columbia]—have proposed restricting access or completely withholding the [body cam] footage from the public.” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, as the Post explains, has sought to keep the public from viewing police body cam videos by exempting all such videos from the Freedom of Information Act.
Simply put then, police not only control what body cameras record, but also increasingly what is done with the captured video.
It is also worth considering the fact that devices touted as a way to hold police accountable for their actions are configured not to watch and record the police, but rather to watch us from the perspective of the police. And as anyone who has come face-to-face with armored clad riot cops during a political protest will no doubt attest, the routine use of cameras trained on protesters by police brings no measure of accountability to the cops. Police cameras do nothing to stop warrior cops from unleashing their truncheons on peaceful protesters, nor do they do anything to hold them to account afterwards. In fact, the police deploy such cameras at rallies largely to aid the future prosecution of those they will arrest for the great criminal offense that is political dissent.
The far more troubling issue with championing police body cameras as some sort of progressive police reform, though, is that their deployment is part of a larger proliferation of mass surveillance capabilities now allowing domestic law enforcement agencies to sweep up a breathtaking amount of data on American citizens.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, the 560 body cameras currently employed by officers of the Oakland, California police department “results in about five to six terabytes of data every month—equivalent to about 1,250 to 1,500 high-definition movie downloads.” The data, the Journal continues, “is stored on a department server for two years at a minimum.”
Using the FBI’s Lockheed Martin designed Next Generation Identification system, cops everywhere equipped with body cameras will soon be able to tap into an FBI database containing over 50 million photos in order to utilize facial recognition technology when making routine traffic stops. It’s difficult to see how the use of body cameras to conduct such fishing expeditions would serve in any way to further police accountability.
The threat to personal privacy posed by police body cams is heightened further when considering the intimate places cops routinely go (e.g. inside one’s apartment or home) and the often compromised state of those visited by police. As the Los Angeles Times notes, “Video from dashboard cameras in police cars, a more widely used technology, has long been exploited for entertainment purposes. Internet users have posted dash-cam videos of arrests of naked women to YouTube, and TMZ sometimes obtains police videos of athletes and celebrities during minor or embarrassing traffic stops, turning officers into unwitting paparazzi.”
It doesn’t take much imagination to picture huckster entrepreneurs of the near future using any and all police body cam video released to the public (which will undoubtedly be skewed toward those videos portraying officers in a positive light) to piggyback on the already booming online mug shot industry currently dabbling in the lucrative trade of public humiliation and shame.
Body cameras or not, though, police agencies the nation over are already fixing to amass vast swaths of data on no less than our daily movements via the widespread deployment of things like automatic license plate readers (ALPRs), which snap pictures of car license plates in conjunction with date, time, and location.
According to a separate Journal report, the Justice Department is currently using ALPRs strategically placed on major highways, in combination with those routinely used by state and local law enforcement agencies, to maintain a national database to “track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S.” Many of the devices used to feed the database, the paper notes, “also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities.”
Consider, also, the ability local police agencies already possess to scoop up our electronic communications via devices like “dirtboxes” and “stingrays” (which mimic cellular towers in order to trick all adjacent cell phones into sending their identifying information back to the devices for collection). This is to say nothing of the “haystack” of personal data the National Security Agency is actively compiling in its search for needles.
Such a rush by law enforcement to deploy all the latest surveillance technologies on the American people quite predictably leaves the collecting agencies awash in more data than could ever possibly be of use. In fact, such mass surveillance is quite lousy at its purported purpose of predicting and preventing crime or “terrorism.” As Julia Angwin writes in her book Dragnet Nation, “the flood of data can be overwhelming and confounding to those who are charged with sorting through it to find terrorists.” “But,” Angwin goes on to add, “ubiquitous, covert surveillance does appear to be very good at repression.”
Police Surveillance as Repression
What the “war on drugs” was for mass incarceration, the “war on terror” has clearly been to domestic surveillance. So not only are militarized police now sent parading through the streets in their repurposed military vehicles and equipment, they are also increasingly turning to military-styled mass surveillance methods to achieve the very same ends sought by occupying American forces abroad; that is, collective pacification.
As Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston write in a 2014 LA Weekly article on the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of data-intensive “predictive policing”: the “LAPD’s mild-sounding ‘predictive policing’ technique, introduced by former Chief William Bratton [now chief of the NYPD] to anticipate where future crime would hit, is actually a sophisticated system developed not by cops but by the U.S. military, based on ‘insurgent’ activity in Iraq and civilian casualty patterns in Afghanistan.”
Bond-Graham and Winston add: “Records obtained by L.A. Weekly from the U.S. Army Research Office show that UCLA professors Jeff Brantingham and Andrea Bertozzi (anthropology and applied mathematics, respectively) in 2009 told the Army that their predictive techniques ‘will provide the Army with a plethora of new data-intensive predictive algorithms for dealing with insurgents and terrorists abroad.’ In a later update to the Army, after they had begun working with LAPD, they wrote, ‘Terrorist and insurgent activities have a distinct parallel to urban crime.'”
The world, lest we ever forget, is now a battlefield. But if the American dragnet abroad is, as Alfred McCoy writes, a means of cheaply “projecting power and keeping subordinate allies in line,” the domestic dragnet imposed by militarized cops is likewise as much about keeping domestic threats (activists, dissidents, the working class, and poor) in line as imperial rot takes hold within the “homeland” in the form of widening economic inequality and deepening social crisis.
And utilizing mass surveillance as a tool of repression indeed appears the intent of snooping police departments.
Pouring over documents released on the city of Boston’s now suspended ALPR program, ACLU attorney Catherine Crump found that “The Boston Police Department was targeting mostly low income, working class, and Black neighborhoods with their license plate reader program.” In one case, Crump discovered that “one motorcycle that was recorded stolen in the police department’s system had driven past one fixed plate reader 60 times.”
“This signals to me that our greatest fear is true,” Crump adds. “While police say, ‘We need this technology because it helps us find stolen cars and criminals,’ we have found they’re also using these tools to collect data about people who they have no reason to believe were involved in any criminal activity. In Boston, we found that police aren’t using these cameras to respond to hits, they’re sucking up all this data to use potentially down the road for intelligence.”
Are we to believe, then, that the mountains of data to be captured by police body cameras and stored for possibly years by police departments is to be used to hold cops to account? Or is such footage more likely to be kept in secret to further police control over potentially rebellious poor, minority, and working class citizens?
Who gains by entrusting killer cops with policing our privacy?
“The FOP does not disagree that there is a need for civil asset forfeiture revision.” That is what the Fraternal Order of Police said at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary hearing on civil asset forfeiture. And when Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked if FOP stood by those words, the response was “absolutely” – even though FOP’s testimony suggested otherwise.
Grassley even offered him some advice, saying that, now is “not the time to oppose needed reforms,” in light of national headlines on police violence.
This should make it clear to everyone that the time is ripe for federal reform. Though work remains to convince some that community policing instead of “slush funds” must be law enforcement’s number one priority, we should be optimistic.
For months there has been national discourse around civil asset forfeiture and all that is uncivil about it. Members on both sides of the aisle – and organizations across the spectrum – are demanding reform. And rightfully so.
Civil asset forfeiture gives law enforcement the power to take property away from someone who has not been convicted of a crime. And this property can be cash, cars, homes, and anything else – like a “simple gold cross” – that law enforcement believes is connected to a crime. Yes, a woman had her gold cross necklace seized when she was pulled over for a minor traffic violation!
And just how does one go about getting a necklace … or money, or car, or house back? Well, often they don’t. Due process requirements don’t require judicial hearings. More than 60 percent of federal forfeitures were uncontested over the past few years.
When property owners do get notice and muster the courage to go up against the government, they find the deck is stacked against them. Property owners bear the cost of going to court and the burden of proving their property’s “innocence.” And in almost all instances, property owners are not entitled to counsel.
So, what is driving this practice that sounds unfair, unjust, and un-American? How is it that we still have this “thorn in the side of civil liberties?” Civil asset forfeiture is big business for law enforcement at all levels – federal, state, and local. The practice generates billions of dollars annually and law enforcement is permitted to keep the assets it seizes.
Since 2008, state and local police have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion dollars with the help of the federal government. And in 2014 alone, federal forfeiture laws were used to take in $4.5 billion dollars. This is why civil asset forfeiture has been called “policing for profit” and a “system of legal thievery.”
The price that people pay when their property is taken far exceeds the billions it generates. Civil asset forfeiture has long been used to carry out the ineffective and abusive “War on Drugs.” As has been said, “eighteenth-century maritime laws are being applied to [today’s] drugs laws and the repercussions are horrendous.” Just as the “War on Drugs” disproportionately impacts people and communities of color, so does civil asset forfeiture.
In the 1990’s, in Florida’s Volusia County, 90 percent of the drivers from whom cash was confiscated without arrest were Black or Latino. Then fast forward 20 years, to East Texas, where police seized $3 million dollars in a two year period primarily from African American and Latino drivers.
These civil rights and civil liberties concerns that generated broad support for the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform (CAFRA) Act of 2000 exist today. We all recognize that CAFRA did not go far enough. And now is the time we all come to the table and do something about it.
Kanya Bennett is the Legislative Counsel at American Civil Liberties Union, and Nkechi Taifa is the Senior Policy Analyst at Open Society Foundations.
Man Dies Seven Days After Beating by Baltimore Police, Who Still Won’t Say Why They Arrested and Beat Him
Freddie Gray, the 27-year-old man who was whisked away last week by Baltimore police and thrown into the back of a police van, only to later show up in a coma at a hospital, died earlier today.
But Baltimore police have yet to explain why they arrested him in the first place or how he ended up with a broken back.
Had it not been for witnesses video recording several officers dragging him into the van as he screamed in pain, he may have disappeared entirely without a trace.
But today, seven days after Gray was seen conscious and coherent as he was being dragged into the van, police are saying they cannot comment until a “proper and thorough investigation is undertaken.”
In other words, they are waiting to see if any other video surfaces before they create their narrative which will no doubt accuse Gray of being “belligerent” and “combative,” a man showing superhuman strength as he fought off four brave officers, who were only looking out for his safety, and wanted nothing more than to go home to their families that night.
Never mind the fact that perhaps Gray wanted to do the same before he was confronted by police on April 12 for unknown reasons.
The Baltimore Sun reports that Gray was walking down a street when four bicycle police officers tried to detain him, prompting him to run, causing them to run after him.
At least two videos surfaced, but they begin recording after he was detained when he is already screaming in pain. It appears as if they had already broke his back because he doesn’t appear to be able to move his legs as they are dragging him into the van.
Once the doors of the van were closed, one can only imagine what took place because by the time he was transported to the hospital, he was unresponsive.
Gray is the 348th person killed by police since January 1, 2015, according to Killed by Police, an average of more than three people a day. Meanwhile, six cops have been killed by gunfire in the line of duty during that same time, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Detroit, MI– Officer Joseph Weekley had not been on the force since 2010 when he shot a sleeping child in the head during a botched raid executed on the wrong home.
The raid was being filmed for an episode of The First 48, and many believe the excessive tactics used were employed simply to create drama and excitement for the camera. Unfortunately, a beautiful little girl, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 7, lost her life because of his reckless and violent actions.
Officer Weekely has now been reinstated to the force, according to Detroit Police Chief James Craig. As part of the department’s integration program, Weekely will return to the department in a non-field position, but the chief has allowed for the possibility for him to eventually go back into the field, stating,
“It’s tragic what happened to Aiyana, it’s tragic. Sometimes, we’re in a high-risk occupation, mistakes happen, and sometimes those mistakes result in tragedies, but we move on from that.”
Weekley was originally charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor careless discharge of a firearm causing death after young Aiyana took a fatal bullet to the head during a botched raid on her home.
The officer has already been on trial twice for this crime, both ending with deadlocked jurors and mistrials. The judge in the second trial shockingly dropped the manslaughter charge due to a motion by the defense. The same motion had been denied by a judge during his first trial.
In January, Prosecutor Kym Worthy dismissed the case against the killer cop.
According to the officer, a fellow cop threw a flash-bang grenade through the window, which temporarily blinded Weekley, who had been first through the door. When the effects of the flash-bang wore off, he realized there was a person on the couch. Weekley aimed his weapon at the couch where the child was sleeping beneath a “Hanna Montana” blanket. He claims her grandmother, Mertilla Jones, smacked his MP5 submachine gun, causing him to pull the trigger and kill Aiyana.
Mertilla Jones disputes this claim and says that she reached for her granddaughter when the grenade came through the window, not for the officer’s gun. Jones asserts she did not make contact with an officer at any point during the assault on her home. Her fingerprints were not found on the weapon.
The family is now suing the city of Detroit, Officers Weekley and Rowe, The Detroit Police Department, and approximately 20 unidentified members of the Special Response Team, alleging a conspiracy to cover up details of the crime.
“Upon Defendants realizing that they had critically injured the seven-year-old girl, they intentionally conspired to cover-up their unlawful acts by providing false and fictitious information to the authorities and to the media regarding the shooting of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, including falsely claiming that the bullet that killed her was fired from inside the lower unit of the duplex rather than from the outside…”
Why a man who admittedly murdered a sleeping child would ever want to stalk the streets with a weapon remains unclear. Watch out Detroit, there is an armed monster roaming free.
Personal details of murdered journalist & ex-MP found posted on Ukrainian ‘enemies of state’ database
Flowers at Ukraine’s Embassy in Moscow after the murder of journalist Oles Buzina in Kiev. (RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov)
The journalist and ex-MP who were gunned down in Kiev this week were on an ‘enemies of the state’ database – a social media website supported by the aide to Ukraine’s interior minister. The bloggers also have a Twitter account to share ‘successes.’
The volunteer-made website calling itself ‘Mirotvorec’ (Peacekeeper), posts very thorough and comprehensive information on anyone who happens to make the list – journalists, activists, MPs opposing the current Kiev authorities’ policies and rebels fighting against the government in the east. The posts include their addresses, social media account links, a substantial biography and any mentions in the Ukrainian press. There is also labeling involved e.g. “terrorist; supporter of federalization” and other tags.
The website indicates that politician Oleg Kalashnikov’s and journalist Oles Buzina’s details were published on the site no more than 48 hours before both were found dead.
The website has its own social media account, which frequently tweets cryptic messages of “successful missions.”
The website enjoys the support of at least one high-profile Ukrainian official: Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister and a member of the Ukrainian parliament. In one of his Facebook posts, he advised people to post updates to the website.
Praising the work of the website for helping him shoulder the heavy load of information on “terrorists” and “separatists,” Gerashchenko attacks the view that sharing extensive personal information is a breach of privacy.
“Not at all!” he says, citing Article 17 of the Ukrainian Constitution, which states, according to him, that “the defense of national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, ensuring its economic and information security is one of the external functions of the state, and is the business of all the people of Ukraine… Everyone who reports a name to the website, or another [resource] is doing the right thing,” Gerashchenko writes.
Below is a video ofUkrainian Interior Minister ArsenAvakov physically assaulting Kalashnikov during a TV show.
The radical Ukraine Insurgent Army (UPA) organization claimed responsibility for Kalashnikov’s and Buzina’s murder. The statement was made in a letter to Ukrainian political analyst Vladimir Fesenko, who says he received it. The letter is presently being investigated by the Ukrainian police.
This week alone has seen at least four killings of opposition figures in Ukraine. It all started on April 13 with the slaying of journalist Sergey Sukhobok – followed by Kalashnikov two days later and Buzina, the day after that – on the 16th.
The latest murder happened last night when another journalist Olga Moroz – the editor-in-chief of the Neteshinskiy Vestnik, a Ukrainian paper. Moroz was found dead in her home, RBK Ukraine reported.
Her body showed signs of a violent death. Some possessions were missing from the apartment, according to police. Although her work is listed among the causes investigated, the police say there are no allegations relating to any complaints of pressure or threats of violence reported by the journalist.
Buzina’s murder has led to strong condemnation from the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic.
“This appalling act is yet another reminder about the dangers associated with journalism as a profession. This killing must be immediately and fully investigated by the competent authorities… My sincere condolences go out to Buzina’s family and colleagues.”
“I reiterate my call on the authorities to allocate all necessary resources to investigate all attacks on journalists,” she said. “There must be no impunity for the perpetrators and the masterminds behind any violence against members of the media.”
The official also commented on the murder of Sukhobok, who was co-founder of a number of online news portals and contributor to several more Ukrainian media outlets. An investigation is underway.
Mijatovic’s comments are the latest in a long string of international condemnation of the alarming rise of media murders.
In February, the European Union called for stricter observance of freedom of speech in the media by all sides in the Ukrainian conflict.
“We continue to condemn and call for an end to attacks on journalists notably in eastern Ukraine, including killings and abductions,” the statement read.
The FBI and Chicago police department are refusing to release a video of the shooting death of a 17-year-old black man, who was killed by a police officer last year.
Chicago police and the FBI are withholding the dash-cam video because it is “central to their investigation,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was quoted as saying by the Associated Press on Wednesday.
Authorities said they were “confident this video will be released at the appropriate time when their investigation is complete.”
Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times in October 2014 when he allegedly brandished a knife and refused to drop it when confronted by officers. The city has approved a $5 million settlement with the teen’s family.
Some members of the Chicago City Council fear releasing the video could spark the kind of angry protests seen elsewhere in the United States in recent months.
“Regaining the trust of the community, particularly the black community, starts with honesty and hiding a potential execution is the kind of thing that destroys trust,” said Craig Futterman, a law professor at the University of Chicago.
The shooting has not generated the same kind of national attention as other recent high-profile confrontations involving officers. The Chicago police department has long been dogged by a reputation for police brutality.
The officer who killed McDonald is not being named but he has been stripped of his police powers and put on desk duty. No decision has been made on whether he will face criminal charges in the case.
Several videos showing police brutality have been released in recent weeks. A newly released video shows a police officer in Arizona intentionally running over an armed suspect with his vehicle last month.
Police Officer Michael Rapiejko slammed his car into 36-year-old Mario Valencia which was recorded in the dashboard camera that was released on Tuesday. Valencia was taken to a hospital in serious condition but released two days later into police custody.
Another cell phone video was released last week showing an officer in North Charleston, South Carolina firing multiple times at an African-American man as he ran away, sparking outrage around the country.