Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Police Entrapment in DC

July 30, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Inequality

DC Metro StationAbout a week ago the Washington Post ran an article about police stings in DC.

The D.C. police department is quietly turning to high-risk sting operations in which undercover officers recruit people they think are likely to commit armed robberies. The scenarios dreamed up by law enforcement officials, some involving the lure of liquor and strip clubs, are designed to put violent offenders in jail and to address one of the District’s most persistent and dangerous crimes.

Of course, we know who the people “likely to commit armed robberies” are going to be.

I would have just tweeted this and maybe put it up on a link post. But, in addition to encouraging you to read the whole article, I wanted to draw your attention to part of it.

In recent years, D.C. police have deployed extra patrol officers and teams of undercover decoys to respond to robberies. Officers have posed as subway commuters to catch would-be thieves of electronic devices, who Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said in 2012 had “clobbered” her department.

Back when I was on the Criminal Injustice Committee, one of the Committee brought these undercover stings to our attention. PD would pose as passed out people with money and cell phones hanging out of their pockets. When some teen came by and went for the goods, they would get arrested.

Naturally, the reports were coming only from poorer and blacker neighborhoods. I believe the Anacostia metro was one main target. Sadly, the Committee was chin deep in the Wells Fargo campaign. So the proposal to work the S.E. metro stations to warn people wasn’t followed up on.

The poverty rate in DC is (when cost of living is taken into account) 23%. We have some of the worst income inequality in the country. Ward 8 still has almost 18% unemployment. And we all know that unemployment stats are low-balled. But DCs response is to set those people up and shovel them into the prison industrial complex.

In Defense of Graffiti and Teen Angst

October 30, 2009 By: Mel Category: Art, Core, Stratification

This Week in Race published a post titled Does It Still “Take a Village?”: Multiple Perspectives on a Chicago Encounter.  In it, Stephen tells how he witnessed “three young Black boys — maybe 13 years old — tagging the station walls with spray paint” in a Chicago subway.

Stephen decided to confront the boys and got an earful of cursing in return.  He was torn about what to do.  Should he have reported them to the authorities?  Should he have ignored them?  He didn’t want to be the great white savior, but he felt a responsibility to do something about the boys behavior.

Several people were asked to respond to Stephen’s dilemma, but amazingly nobody challenged the basic assumption Stephen was making.  All the responders seemed to agree that graffiti was degenerate behavior that needed to be corrected.  At best, the boys had “gone astray” and at worst they were “ignorant thugs.”

Is graffiti really a sign of thuggery?

Graffiti is beautiful.  (If you don’t believe me, check out some graffiti archeology.)  Graffiti is social commentary, self expression, public conversation, or grassroots support.  It’s free public art in opposition to a culture that commodifies everything.  For many artists, it is also part of an historic tradition.

Granted, Stephen said these kids were tagging and not painting works of art.  But art is in the eye of the beholder.  And if tagging isn’t art, what is it?  It is a way for kids to make a mark, to say “I’m here and I exist.”  Who among us didn’t do that growing up?  Even my friends who didn’t tag still wrote “Tammy is here” on bathroom walls, folders, sneakers, blue jeans…whatever was handy.

And who can blame kids for wanting to shout that they exist in a world that ignores them so completely – unless, of course, they violate some rule or social convention?   I’m not so old that I don’t remember what it is like to be a kid and have nobody listen to you.  The whole world wants to judge you, mold you, try to make you into whatever serves their interest.  If anybody needs a means of self expression it is a teenager.

True, I would not want someone tagging the outside of my house.  But who is more degenerate, the kid who tags or the society that constantly values property over people?  How many people are happy to spend money on police to keep graffiti off their walls but don’t want to spend a dime on education or other social programs to give those kids options?

Adults are often incensed that kids don’t respect authority like they used to.  But why should they respect authority, particularly when it doesn’t usually respect them? I’m 36 years old now and I can say with absolute certainty that, when I look back on my sixteen year old self, 90% of the adults I was supposed to listen to didn’t know shit.  And I was right not to pay a damn bit of attention to them.

Happily, many of the responders did point out that kids were unlikely to listen to any adult unless there was a previous relationship of trust.  Kids have plenty of people jumping in to tell them what they should do or not do.  What they don’t have is people who listen to what they have to say.

Who knows, those kids you want to save may see the world even more clearly than you do.

How Nutty Are the Gun Nuts?

September 09, 2009 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Politics

I find myself in a rather awkward position.  I’m about to (sort of) defend the “gun nuts.”  It freaks me out too, but what can I do.

It started when I noticed Senate bill 1317.  The bill got my attention because it mentioned terrorists.  And whenever a bill mentions terrorists, I start wondering what new civil liberty someone is trying to take away from us.  I think of illegal spying and an end to habeas corpus.  The bill says it is meant

S. 1317
To increase public safety by permitting the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected dangerous terrorists.

Now that sound reasonable. No sane person wants terrorists to get their hands on weapons.  There is that word “suspected” though.  We all know what happens when “suspected” is sufficient to take away someone’s rights.

In a nutshell, this hinges on how much you trust the Attorney General’s idea of “reasonable belief.”  For me, the verdict is not yet in on this particular attorney general.  I can say with certainty that the last couple did not have an idea of “reasonable belief” that came even close to mine.  Who knows about the next ones.  And let me remind you that our government already has a history of labeling innocuous student groups as terrorists.

Now, you may say “So what. People shouldn’t have guns anyway.”  I understand that sentiment.  I’m not a fan of guns.  I am a pacifist after all.   But the truth is that most gun owners aren’t out killing people or joining racist militias.  And given what our food industry does to animals, hunters are often a hell of a lot more humane than the people who put our meat in pretty little packages.

All of the above made me think about the two essential claims that the “gun nuts” make.  The first is that the right to bear arms is in the constitution.  The second is that there are people (democrats mostly) who want to take their guns away.  I have to admit that both of those claims are true.  I happen to be one of the people who has wanted to take their guns away.

I won’t pretend to understand gun owners love of their guns.  And I think the idea that having a rifle will protect you from your government is a bit insane at this point.  The government has bombers and nukes.  Shooting your gun up at a bomber might make a good scene in the new Red Dawn remake, but it ain’t going to do a whole lot to protect you.  Then again, those Iraqis had a pretty low tech arsenal and managed to kick our asses, so…

Much as I hate to come out on the side of the gun lobby, here I am. Do we want to give the DOJ the power to start designating people as “suspected terrorists” and then assigning their rights (or lack thereof) based on that designation?

If people are plotting to use those weapons to commit crimes, we need to investigate.  We have RICO statutes and criminal conspiracy charges that can be brought against them. We have an imperfect, but functioning, judicial system where they should be tried.

There may be people who don’t think there should be a right to bear arms.  That’s a perfectly legitimate opinion.  They should be honest about it and say that they want to amend the constitution.