American Police Still Allowed to Murder Black Children Without Consequences

“He was a beautiful child playing our fucked-up national game. Now, he’ll never be anything else, and we’re supposed to think that’s right.”

Stephanie Zvan

Tamir Rice was murdered.

Image shows a young grinning black child.

Tamir Rice.

You may not have thought much about it, because a child with a realistic-looking gun being shot by police in America may not have tripped your alarm circuits. You saw the uniform on his killer, and didn’t think thug or criminal. You didn’t think of all the times you played with toy guns as a child, and when you did, you weren’t worried that a cop would roll up and shoot you for it. Your games of cops and robbers were never interrupted by cops arriving, stepping out of their car, and shooting your friends dead. So you figure there must have been some reason for it. After all, the killer wore blue. [Read more…]

Oh, Look! An Early Christmas Present!

If I’d been praying, I’d be tempted to believe in a god. No, wait, I wouldn’t – douchebros have a tendency to make their own misfortune, and our own terrible Martin Shkreli, last seen hiking the prices of a crucial drug for immunocompromised patiented by 5,000% and then using a few millions of the profits to buy a rare Wu Tang Clan album (which he could then prevent everyone else from enjoying), has managed to get himself arrested for securities fraud.

A boyish drug company entrepreneur, who rocketed to infamy by jacking up the price of a life-saving pill from $13.50 to $750, was arrested by federal agents at his Manhattan home early Thursday morning on securities fraud related to a firm he founded.

Martin Shkreli, 32, ignited a firestorm over drug prices in September and became a symbol of defiant greed. The federal case against him has nothing to do with pharmaceutical costs, however. Prosecutors in Brooklyn charged him with illegally taking stock from Retrophin Inc., a biotechnology firm he started in 2011, and using it to pay off debts from unrelated business dealings. He was later ousted from the company, where he’d been chief executive officer, and sued by its board.

In the case that closely tracks that suit, federal prosecutors accused Shkreli of engaging in a complicated shell game after his defunct hedge fund, MSMB Capital Management, lost millions. He is alleged to have made secret payoffs and set up sham consulting arrangements. A New York lawyer, Evan Greebel, was also arrested early Thursday. He’s accused of conspiring with Shkreli in part of the scheme.

Ah, such sweet schadenfreude in the morning! Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fellow. [Read more…]

Apparently Standing While Black is a Problem. Plus: Help Our Tony if You Can!

Another day, another black man being roughed up by police for existing while black. Tony tells us the story, and he’s got some great questions at the end for those white folks who are all, “Don’t do anything wrong and you won’t have to worry!”

They say if we follow those easy to remember rules, then we won’t face extreme violence from police officers. Well, what handy-dandy tips do they have for us when we’re engaged in the same activities that everyone else does in the course of a day? When you’re minding your own business in public, where you have the right to be, and you’re walking, which you have the right to do, and you’re attacked by cops who think you look like this *other* black person they’re looking for and don’t even bother to ensure they have the right suspect? How do we avoid that? I mean since we’re talking about the steps white people think black people need to take to avoid cops choosing to use excessive force on us. Heaven forbid we talk about cops modifying their behavior so that they don’t brutalize black folk.

And, y’know, white folk who think black folk bring police violence on themselves: encouraging cops to use maximum force in every confrontation in which they feel the least bit uncomfy, or in which they want to assert their authority over a potential “thug” (y’know, someone not wearing a tailored suit and who happens to be an older straight white cis dude), or in which they feel disrespected, or in which they encountered the person they wished to talk to while they were having a bad day, or in which they had a shiny new baton or taser or gun, or… well, I shouldn’t have to continue painting you pictures, now, should I? If you encourage the cops to use force rather than non-violent, non-confrontational techniques to approach people they wish to talk to who are darker-hued, they’re going to start using those techniques on lighter and lighter people, until everyone is subject to unreasonable force by a militarized and highly belligerent gang of assholes with a badge and a taste for blood.

Well, my gosh, that’s actually already happening, isn’t it?

We are going to have to stop telling people of color how perfect they must be in order to survive an encounter with police unmolested, and start a revolution in policing. We need to take the military toys away from our cops, fire the racists and bigots and misogynists, fire the ones who put on the badge and the gun for the rush they get from their power, and train the remaining cops how to serve the public. We need a universal ethos of protect and serve. Not “protect and serve the rich white guys while fucking over the poor and the dark.” Not “protect our own police lives at all costs, even if that means taking the lives of an endless stream of unarmed people, and roughing up the ones we don’t kill.” We need police to value the lives of everyone in the community – yes, even the criminal ones. We need to imbue our police with a social service mentality rather than a siege one. Of course there will be times when they must use force, but that should be the last resort, not the first – and for any cops who think otherwise, we must be willing to kick them out of our police forces.

Otherwise, we will continue to see the use of force escalate, until no matter how rich you are, how famous, how talented, how innocently standing still doing absolutely nothing wrong, we will be at risk of assault or death at any moment from a police force that thinks of us all as vermin. Black folk already know what that regime is like. Ask them what sort of quality of life it offers.

Image is a red triangle with a yellow interior. A police officer in silhouette raises his baton to hit two beseeching black hands. At the bottom are the words "STOP POLICE BRUTALITY"

Public domain image modified by moi. Feel free to use.

***

Tony is still looking for work, and could use help if you’ve got it to give. He just needs to raise $290 to make it through this month. If you’ve got a little to spare and would like to support his excellent blogging, you can donate here. If you’re in the market for mint-condition comics and DVDs, he’s also got an Ebay store where you can find some very sweet stuff. If you haven’t any filthy lucre to spare, signal boosting this request will help, too. Thank you, my darlings!

But A White Guy Who Attacks Cops Would Get Shot, Too, Right?

On Tuesday night, I went to a boating party. It was full of liberal white folk, so of course the conversation turned to Black Lives Matter. One of the guys thought they shouldn’t build a movement around Mike Brown, cuz “he attacked a cop, and when you do that, you’re going to get shot.”

I was so flummoxed by that, I forgot to mention that Black Lives Matter actually started with Trayvon Martin, a kid with some tea and Skittles. (My friend wouldn’t have said anything like, “But if you try to keep some maniac with a gun and an outsized ego from assaulting you, you’re going to get shot,” and declare Trayvon disqualified as well. But I know there are people in this country – even some in white liberal circles – who would claim that, yep, Trayvon brought it on himself by not immediately prostrating himself before George Zimmerman and begging for his life to be spared. I hope they all come to understand just how deeply fucked up they are, and change accordingly.)

My friend is a Science Facts Guy. We’ll call him SFG. Evidence matters to him. And he just couldn’t get past the fact that Mike Brown had supposedly attacked Darren Wilson. I say “supposedly,” because in this white supremacist society of ours, one in which so many cops have claimed that they were attacked by that unarmed black dude, only to have evidence turn up that no, actually, they weren’t, that I remain skeptical of those results. But perhaps they scuffled. Let’s even concede all the worst facts we can find: that Mike smoked weed, that he shoplifted some cigarillos, that he was walking down the middle of the street, and mouthed off to an officer of the law, and attacked him. Let’s make it look really, really bad. [Read more…]

Even Our Police Dogs are Racist – When Their Human Handlers Are

Here’s a statistic that should have you shaking with rage:

The Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson Police Department is full of eye-catching numbers that reveal a culture plagued by significant racism. Statistically significant. For instance, nearly ninety per cent of the people who prompted a “use of force” by the F.P.D. were black. Even among such skewed percentages, there are some standouts. Among cases in which a suspect was bitten by an attack dog and the suspect’s race was recorded, what percentage were black?

A hundred per cent.

Let that sink in for a minute. [Read more…]

Responses to the DOJ’s Report on Ferguson’s Atrocious Law Enforcement

The DOJ may have cleared Darrin Wilson, but the city government of Ferguson is roundly condemned. The atrocious racism and massive problems with Ferguson’s law enforcement machinery is just a case study. They’re not unique: cities around the country operate this way, with one law for the rich and white, and another law for the poor and brown. I don’t know how we fix this, but we have to. [Read more…]

White America Has Outlawed Existing-While-Black

That’s the only conclusion I can come to after a day spent reading about 18 year-old unarmed black kid Mike Brown’s murder by a white cop with a god complex. It’s 2014, and we’re still a society in which black parents have to explain to their kids how not to get killed by the police, and a society in which a black man can get executed for selling untaxed cigarettes, a black woman for opening her door to police, a young black man for lying face-down as the police compelled him to., and a black man can’t be assaulted by a white one without getting pepper-sprayed and detained. Meanwhile, white people can carry assault rifles wherever they wish, and even brandish them at police without getting shot instantly, but a black man can’t carry a BB gun in Wal-Mart without getting executed by police. An unarmed black teenager gets murdered by a policeman, and a white pundit wants to know why President Obama won’t offer the murderer condolences for having given in to the impulse to destroy an innocent human being.

Are we happy, white Americans? This is the country we’ve made. Remember all that tough-on-crime talk that’s kept us electing people who’ve promised more cops with more powerful weaponry? Remember how we all panicked after 9/11 and decided it was okay if our police were turned into paramilitary units? And how we’ve put all this heavy weaponry in the hands of white people who disproportionately target black people?

I want you to look at what’s happening in Ferguson, to the people who are peacefully protesting a black teenager’s murder.

An unarmed black protestor retreats from police, who have enough firepower to reduce him to random chunks of meat. Image credit: Whitney Curtis, NYT

An unarmed black protestor retreats from police, who have enough firepower to reduce him to random chunks of meat. Image credit: Whitney Curtis, NYT

[Read more…]

Some Helpful Illustrations for the Willfully Obtuse

It seems that despite many patient and helpful explanations over the years, some fanchildren in our community (and others) are still quite confused. They keep mistaking our social media spaces for  courtrooms and discussions for trials. Since reading comprehension would appear to be absent from their Skeptical Toolkit, perhaps some illustrations may be of assistance.

This is a courthouse: [Read more…]

“Rape is not a recreational activity.” Steubenville Rape Verdict Roundup

A near-miracle has happened: two rapists have been convicted of sexual assault. Excuse me, found “delinquent” in a juvenile court. At their ages, had they stolen something more than an intoxicated girl’s bodily integrity, they would have likely been charged as adults – but hey, it’s just rape. Not like they stole a car or murdered somebody, amirite? And, hey, if they learn the appropriate sorry-won’t-do-it-again words, they may not even have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. Pretty sweet, huh? That’s actually amazing, considering how few rapists ever get convicted at all.

United States rape statistics. Those numbers should horrify every decent human being. Image courtesy RAINN.

United States rape statistics. Those numbers should horrify every decent human being. Image courtesy RAINN.

[Read more…]

We Need to Stop Executing Peoplel

Last night, the state of Georgia executed a man who was very likely innocent. Like PZ, I don’t care whether he was guilty or innocent. I care that my country is one of the few countries in the world that executes people.

From Wikipedia

I used to be a strong death penalty supporter. Some crimes, I thought, could only be adequately punished by death. I didn’t ever believe it acted as a general deterrent, but as former FBI agent John Douglas said in Mindhunter, it surely acts as a specific deterrent: that particular person will never commit a crime again. When you’re talking about serial killers, that seems like an admirable thing.

But we kill too many innocent people. We come close to killing far more, before luck and persistence and the existence of DNA evidence, uncovered by tireless investigators, come to the rescue. Those are the lucky ones. Those are the ones who aren’t denied the chance to prove their innocence. How many other people have gone to their deaths because no DNA evidence existed, or if it did was never found, or if found, never allowed to be presented? We don’t know. And it’s unbearable that we don’t know.

So what about those cases in which evidence of guilt is undeniable? Where we definitely have the right person, and the crimes they committed are horrific?

I still don’t support the death penalty. Not even for them. Oh, I may want them to die, and die horribly; that visceral emotional reaction, that righteous outrage, is certainly there. But a civilized society should restrain itself. All we gain is another dead person, another traumatized family, proof that we aren’t able to rise above bronze age ideas of justice. We engage in violence to punish violence, and make our civilization just that much more violent.

Life in prison, no parole, is enough to keep society safe.

We spend an insane amount of money on killing people. That money would be far better spent on improving the conditions that lead people to violence in the first place. A society that takes care of its vulnerable members has less to fear from them, and so much to gain.

Troy Davis should be the last person to be put to death in this country. We’re the last country in North America to execute people. It’s time we joined Canada and Mexico in recognizing what justice truly is.