Thursday, November 27, 2014

An (Unreaonable) Explanation of Darren Wilson's Actions

I've spent way too much time reading transcripts from the Darren Wilson grand jury. Ezra Klein's summary and comparison with Dorian Johnson's testimony (and Chris Hayes's on-location interview with Johnson) provide a somewhat clear picture of what happened, if you keep one important thing in mind.

First, watch this three-minute video of an August police shooting at a South Carolina gas station. I wish I could embed it here, but CNN won't allow that. But it's crucial to watch it.

Then listen to how the white state trooper in that shooting saw that situation:

"I pulled him over for a seat belt violation," [trooper] Groubert can be heard saying on the tape. "Before I could even get out of my car he jumped out, stared at me, and as I jumped out of my car and identified myself, as I approached him, he jumped head-first back into his car."

"I started retracting back towards the rear of his vehicle telling him 'Look, get out of the car, let me see your hands.' He jumped out of the car. I saw something black in his hands. I ran to the other side car yelling at him, and he kept coming towards me. Apparently it was his wallet."
Does that match what you saw on the video? (And remember the way the whole situation got started: the "seat belt violation" was the driver removing his seat belt just as he was about to park in a parking lot. Ooo, danger, Will Robinson! Kind of like jaywalking on Canfield Drive.)

Both this South Carolina trooper and Darren Wilson are badly trained and/or paranoid about black men hurting them. They don't see what a reasonable person would see. People with guns in their hands are more likely to think other people also have guns. Black boys are perceived as older than they are, compared to white boys. Whites see blacks as having super powers in terms of strength and not feeling pain. And statistically, a civilian is much more likely to be killed by police than the other way around.

Darren Wilson backed his car almost into Brown and Johnson, and then couldn't get his door open because he had pulled so close to them. He was angered by that and grabbed Brown through the window. But Brown is both larger than Wilson and standing up, while Wilson is sitting down. Brown doesn't want to be pulled in and struggles with Wilson. And because of Wilson's paranoia he perceives enough danger to pull his gun -- which was the first fateful moment.

Then he pursued and shot Brown for no real reason, because he thought Brown was a danger to others as Brown had been a danger to him. It has implicit bias written all over it.
...the same part of the brain that activates when we feel fear, threat, anxiety or distrust also is at play when Caucasian participants viewed African-American male faces versus Caucasian male faces in the race portion of the landmark Implicit Association Test. ...subjects who demonstrated more bias against African-Americans, as measured by the Race IAT, had "matching higher amygdala or fear reactions to African-American male faces."

"Nationwide, statistically significant samples show that 70 to 87 percent of Caucasians in the United States demonstrate bias against African-Americans on the Race IAT," Papillon writes.

More known "shoot/don't shoot" studies show that the overwhelming majority of players -- less so trained law enforcement personnel -- made more mistakes and fired at unarmed African-Americans than Caucasians.
It's good to hear that trained law enforcement personnel are less likely to make this type of mistake in a shoot/don't shoot study. But clearly, less likely to is not the same as unlikely to.

Wilson's testimony is riddled with phrases that show his bias. Brown had the face of a demon; his 6'4" 280 pounds seemed like Hulk Hogan relative to Wilson's 6'4" 210 pounds; he was "bulking up to run through the shots" like a superhero or a mad bull.

The difference between Darren Wilson and trooper Sean Groubert is that Groubert had a camera rolling on his dashboard, and it showed that he had no reason to shoot. He was fired and has been charged with aggravated assault. I hope he's found guilty.

Oh, and Groubert's victim, Levar Jones, is alive to tell his side of it. That matters, too.


The city of Seattle has dealt with its own police-use-of-deadly-force issues, and as a result has entered a consent decree on reforming their policies. A former U.S. attorney wrote in today's Star Tribune to describe some of what caused it and the measures they are taking:
Now, every aspect of reform must be reviewed and approved by the federal judge and his appointed monitor. This ensures independence, helps insulate the process from political and budgetary pressures, and increases public trust and confidence.

New policies and training on using force, dealing with the mentally ill, and biased policing were developed. A Community Police Commission, made up of a broad cross-section of community members and police officers, was created to oversee the changes and foster positive dialogue. The parties are in the process of agreeing to and measuring outcomes. One significant benefit: There already is formalized collaboration with the mental health provider community, and all dispatchers and officers have received training on how to deal with people in crisis.
Sounds like the beginning of a plan that should be adopted everywhere.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Clear-Cast "Free TV" Ad Gives Slick a Bad Name

Free TV is once again on offer in the ad pages of my local newspaper. Last time the ad for Clear-Cast (or ClearCast) called its product "free TV" with "953 shows," which everyone who saw the ad interpreted to mean "953 channels."

Now it's trying to spin the recent Supreme Court decision against tech start-up Aereo as if it has something to do with this antenna that has existed for years.

Look at this headline, especially juxtaposed to the large photo of a wall of television screens:

Clearly the headline and photo are meant to get your attention by saying you can get a free television -- not free television broadcasts. (What, the Supreme Court ruled we all get free TVs? This looks like a news story! I must read it.)

If you read the ad, of course, you become a bit bewildered about where the free TV is and finally realize they're talking about free television shows through an antenna. Though in the caption below the large photo, they even dare to claim "It's like getting a new HDTV for free."

I love how the ad repeatedly uses the phrase "slick little device" or "slick little micro antenna" to describe the product. Fourteen times, in fact -- sometimes up to three times in a paragraph. (They also used the word "sleek" once. I wonder if that was a typo?) It's slick, all right, but mostly in the tradition of "slick talking." 

There's even a paragraph where they appear to mislead readers about what channels they'll get with the slick little antenna. "The device is engineered to access solely over-the-air signals that include all the top-rated national and all broadcast stations, like DISNEY (ABC), COMCAST (NBC), CBS, 21st Century Fox (FOX), PBS, CW, and about 90% of the most watched TV shows...." Notice how they play up DISNEY, COMCAST, and FOX (as in Fox News) -- all names associated with cable channels that will not be available using the Clear-Cast antenna.

I particularly love how they're so proud their product is engineered to receive over-the-air signals... you know. Like an antenna.

I also noticed that the price this time is $88 per unit. In the 2012 ad, they were only $47 (and were advertised in a New York paper for only $38). So that's an 87 or a 132 percent price increase, depending on which market you're in.

Of course, there are volume discounts if you get more than one, and if you have more than one TV, you'll need one for each. As the form at the bottom of the ad says, "You only need one Clear-Cast brand micro antenna device for each TV that you want Free channels on." Well, thank goodness you don't need two of them for each TV! Wow, you guys are tech geniuses.

Any way you look at it, it's a ripoff because you can buy an effective digital antenna for as little as $8, according to Consumer Reports.


Here's a list of my past posts on the scammers from Canton, Ohio, who want to sell you the slick little device. They also bring you Amish heaters, uncut $2 bills, fake health care, safes to put your over-priced coin collection in, swamp coolers pretending to be air conditioners, cheap but over-priced laptop computers, and weight-loss miracle "drugs."

They work through a parent company called Arthur Middleton Capitol Holdings.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy

If you don't know who Bryan Stevenson is, he's the lawyer who won a Supreme Court case in 2010 that outlawed sentencing people under 18 to life in prison without parole. He founded the Equal Justice Institute. While touring his recent book, Just Mercy, he spoke today at the Westminster Forum in Minneapolis.

He started off by sharing some of our country's incarceration statistics:
  • we went from a prison population of 300,000 in the early 1970s to 2.3 million today
  • we have only 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prisoners
  • 6 million people are currently on probation
  • 60 million people have a criminal record that affects their ability get a job or housing (that's almost one-fifth of the population!)
Despite the statistics, Stevenson's talk was based on stories that put a human face on mass incarceration, and particularly the way that our faltering public defender system results in vastly unequal justice for rich and poor. He told of cases and clients with mental health issues that were never raised by their lawyers at trial, clients with mental disabilities who could barely speak who ended up being executed.

The talk was structured around four things we as a society need to do to begin to become just and equal:
  • Get into proximity with people who are not like us. This is the only way to stop being manipulated by the politics of fear -- of "super-predators," black men, the other.
  • Change the narrative. As long as Americans tell ourselves we are exceptional and everyone has equal opportunity and history doesn't exist, we will never have truth and reconciliation for our past, which affects everything about our society to this day. "Slavery didn't end, it evolved." The black people who left the South in the Great Migration were "exiles from terrorism."
  • Stay hopeful. This is hard, he admits, especially on a day like today. Stevenson told an incredible story of encountering a racist prison guard (his personal vehicle covered in Confederate flags and inflammatory bumper stickers) who later came to recognize that Stevenson's mentally ill, black client had had a worse life than his own. And that he (the prison guard) was taking his anger out on others, based on race. Wow. 
  • Do uncomfortable things. You can't get to reconciliation without discomfort. 
Our justice system values finality over fairness, Stevenson said. Even when an indigent, mentally compromised client got terrible representation, multiple levels of appeals courts turned him down for a new trial. This made me think of the Italian system, which automatically requires two appeals for every conviction. There are other ways we could do things, ways that have already been explored in other countries, if we cared about justice.

At some point in the past few years I read an article that advocated abolishing privately paid defense lawyers. In this writer's conception of a justice system, everyone would have the same level of counsel and expert witnesses. No more of our current system, which treats rich-but-guilty defendants better than it does poor-but-innocent ones. I wish I could find the link, but search as I might, it's not turning up.

Near the end of his talk, Stevenson said, "The opposite of poverty isn't wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice." It was a good way to conclude an hour of information and inspiration.


A few relevant past posts:

Juveniles deserve juvenile justice

The new Jim Crow

Constructing criminality and racing to incarcerate


Photo of Bryan Stevenson by Nina Subin

Monday, November 24, 2014

Letter Askew

A funny photo for a not-funny day in American history.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Repressed Memories Are Not Real

I was very disappointed to see the Marilyn vos Savant column in today's Parade magazine. Yes, yes, I know Parade is old-school, but it's still read by millions of people, and vos Savant's column is usually good for a little bit of reality. Not this time.

E.P., the writer from Colorado Springs, is mostly asking why hypnosis can't be used to help people get over traumatic memories, and that's the part that vos Savant answers. But she ignores the writer's premise -- that "we all know" that hypnosis can retrieve suppressed memories.

That part is completely untrue, and the common belief to the contrary is harmful, as shown in a recent article in Pacific Standard magazine, titled The Most Dangerous Idea in Mental Health. Back in the days of the satanic cult "recovered" memory craze of the 1980s, researchers like Elizabeth Loftus debunked the idea.

It's too bad vos Savant couldn't spare a few lines of her response to remind everyone that what "we all know" about recovered memories is, in fact, not known at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Has Been

Comedian W. Kamau Bell recently tweeted this:

"I woulda done it better, if I had done it, but I don't do things, but if I did do things, I'd do that one better." – Most internet criticism
It reminded me of the song "Has Been," performed by William Shatner on an album produced by Ben Folds. (Cowritten by Shatner and Folds.)
Has Been

Has been, has been, has been
You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?
You callin' me "has been"?
What'd you say your name is?

Jack — never done Jack
Glad to meet you
Who's your friend?
Dick — don't say Dick
What do you know?
And you friend, what's your handle?
Don — Two Thumbs Don

Riding on their armchairs
They dream of wealth and fame
Fear is their companion
Nintendo is their game

Never done Jack and Two Thumbs Don
And sidekick don't say Dick
We'll laugh at others failures
Though we have not done shit

{I've heard of you, the ready-made connecting with the ever-ready, yeah
The never-was talking about still trying. I got it.
Forever-bitter gossiping about never-say-die
May I inquire what you've been doing, mister?}

Jack, never done Jack
And you partner, what's the news of the world, Dick?
I don't say Dick
Don, of all the people you must be The Tattler
Two Thumbs up
What are you afraid of, failure?
So am I

Has been implies failure
Not so
Has been is history
Has been was
Has been might again
It's from the album also called Has Been, which includes some other favorite songs of mine, especially "Common People."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wage Theft and More

Wage theft. It's a fairly recent obsession of mine, filling a bunch of tabs awaiting a coherent bit of writing. I'm not sure I can be coherent, but here are the tabs.

An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year. This report from the Economic Policy Institute provides the working definition of the problem:

Millions of Americans struggle to get by on low wages, often without any benefits such as paid sick leave, a pension, or even health insurance. Their difficult lives are made immeasurably harder when they do the work they have been hired to do, but their employers refuse to pay, pay for some hours but not others, or fail to pay overtime premiums when employees’ hours exceed 40 in a week.
The EPI authors explain,
Survey evidence suggests that wage theft is widespread and costs workers billions of dollars a year, a transfer from low-income employees to business owners that worsens income inequality, hurts workers and their families, and damages the sense of fairness and justice that a democracy needs to survive. A three-city study of workers in low-wage industries found that in any given week, two-thirds experienced at least one pay-related violation
The total stolen from workers through wage theft is -- get this -- three times as much as the amount taken in every robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft in the U.S. each year. And that's just the proven wage theft, the wage theft where someone complains. It doesn't count the many times when an employee doesn't report or can't report (probably very common when a worker is undocumented).

But which type of crime do you hear about on the evening news or in crime statistics?

Here's just one of many stories where a large employer was found to be stealing from its employees: Shell and Motiva Enterprises Pay Millions In Back Wages After Investigation:
...eight Shell Oil and Motiva refineries failed to pay workers for time spent attending mandatory pre-shift meetings. The companies required the workers to come to the meetings before the start of their 12-hour shift. Because the companies failed to consider time spent at mandatory pre-shift meetings as compensable, employees were not paid for all hours worked and did not receive all of the overtime pay of time and one-half their regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Additionally, the refineries did not keep accurate time records.
This tendency to not pay for time that's required for a job but not directly part of what might be considered productive labor is common in wage theft cases. Amazon's warehouse workers are currently suing because they are required to spend 25 minutes -- uncompensated -- every day (!) in a security checkout line to make sure they haven't stolen anything. The warehouse says that's not work, and clearly it's not, but it's also not something the workers have any choice about so they should be paid for the time.

A couple more: Chipotle makes workers stay late 'off the clock' without pay, New York attorney general to sue Papa John's franchisee for shorting wages. Remember, these are often the workers who are making minimum wage or just above it, and so can least afford to have their wages taken.

The relationship of wage theft to the institution of franchising can't be ignored. Franchising is basically a way for a large corporation to decrease its risk and responsibility for how it treats its workers by creating secondary companies that legally employ the workers. This whole fiction was recently unmasked in a decision by the National Labor Relations Board.

[It's worth noting that the franchisees themselves are not always happy about their relationship to their corporate overlords. Two stories: Disenfranchised: Why Are Americans Still Buying Into the Franchise Dream? from Pacific Standard magazine and Behind Big Macs, a drama over business control from Associate Press.]

Another way that corporations and their franchisees routinely steal from low-wage workers is by making them assistant managers or even managers. Because a manager supposedly has more discretion in work, they are exempt from the hourly wage rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act. So fast food companies, for instance, promote a worker to assistant manager and suddenly don't have to pay her overtime. The big dollar store chains, like Dollar General, are well known for this:
Each week, the company allotted [Dollar General Manager] Hughey around 125 hours to assign to the four workers in her charge, most of whom were earning close to minimum wage... But...the hours...allowed...rarely cover the work that needs to be done. The stores operate on something close to a skeleton staff, workers say.

Pressured to keep payroll down, Hughey spent most of her time unloading trucks, stocking shelves and manning the cash register, often logging 12-hour days, six days a week, to keep the store operating. She said she felt less like a manager than a manual laborer.

Dollar General saved a bundle by having Hughey do much of the grunt work. As a salaried manager, she was exempt from overtime protections and didn't get paid for extra work. Given that she often worked 70 hours a week, at an annual salary of $34,700, her pay sometimes broke down to less than $10 per hour -- hardly a managerial haul.
Managers supposedly get paid vacations, but if they can't find staff to cover their time off, they don't take it. If someone calls in sick for the early store-opening shift, it's the assistant manager or the manager who covers it, unpaid beyond their 40-hour check.

Part of the problem with the FLSA's regulation of these exempt workers is that the minimum weekly wage that controls whether they can be considered exempt or not has not been increased since 2004: you can make as little as $455 a week and be considered salaried. When that dollar amount was written into the bill by Congress, it was worth $28,874 a year in 2013 dollars, but now it's $23,660. As with too many laws that control wages, the amount is not indexed to inflation.

This weakness in the FLSA is by design:
As originally written in the 1940s, the Fair Labor Standards Act limited the percentage of the day that an employee could spend on non-managerial duties and still be exempt from overtime, which over the years came to be understood as no more than 50 percent [of their time].

But in 2004, President George W. Bush’s Department of Labor overhauled the rules, which accomplished two things: First, it raised the salary threshold below which all workers are entitled to overtime, from $250 per week to $455 per week. And second, it reorganized all the exemptions in such a way that more employees wouldn’t qualify because of what they did on the job. Under the new rules, people could be defined as managers exempt from overtime, for example, while doing grunt work and supervisory work simultaneously.
Current Secretary of Labor Tom Perez hopes to introduce an increase in that minimum, to about $50,000 a year, which seems only fair to me when paying a person who is supposed to be a manager of a business. That's not even the median wage for a family of four. And it's what the basic exempt wage limit from 1975 would have become by now, if it had been adjusted for inflation.

Exempt employees are supposed to be doing jobs that are "executive," "professional," or "administrative." I'm not sure where unloading trucks and running a cash register fits into those categories. But all of this messing with the FLSA indicates that our labor laws need to be overhauled to fit the way our current service economy works, instead of the manufacturing economy we used to have.


Related thoughts....

Another way that companies undermine their workers is by using just-in-time scheduling. I've written before about workers in this situation, who are often called the precariat (a clever combination of precarious and proletariat). More recent stories on these practices cover Walmart, Popeyes, and Urban Outfitters. Schedules are completely unpredictable, making it impossible for people to get child care, work a second job, or get more education. It's almost as if these employers don't want their employees to better themselves so they can get a better job some day.

San Francisco recently responded to all of these employer practices by introducing a retail workers' bill of rights. "The proposed legislation would require that chain retailers provide schedules to workers at least two weeks in advance. Workers would also be entitled to additional pay if their schedules change at the last minute."

Here's a story that gives a clear idea of what it's like to work for a large sporting goods retailer. The pay ($10 an hour) sounds good relative to minimum wage, but his overtime goes unpaid altogether. Once he got a pair of socks.

And of course, I recommend reading Barbara Ehrenreich's classic book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Good News, Dumb News from the Star Tribune

First the good news: Minnesota's trial run of specialty courts for chronic drunk drivers has resulted in substantially lower recidivism rates, saving both money and lives. Offenders who go through the experimental court underwent an intensive program, and were more likely to complete the programs than DWI courts nationally.

Then the weird news: people in the inner-ring, expensive suburb Edina (located on the southwest corner of Minneapolis) are opposed to adding sidewalks to their fair town. Not only that, they're said to be "up in arms" about it. What are they afraid of? Well, shoveling, I suppose. But it sounds like Edina is even planning to clear the sidewalks of snow in some areas. (Which makes me wonder why that isn't a thing everywhere. What message does it send to pedestrians that roads are important enough to clear with tax money, but sidewalks aren't?)

And then there's this, which isn't exactly weird, but isn't good either: A DFL member of the State Legislature wants to increase the sentences for people who assault nurses while they're on the job, mirroring the penalties for assaulting a police officer. Supposedly there has been an increased number of assaults on nurses lately. I doubt that, from a statistical standpoint, or if it's true, whether it's not just a random blip. And I also doubt that increasing sentences would have any deterrent effect. People who assault nurses are not in their right minds, obviously. In this age of over-incarceration, any move to increase sentences is the wrong direction, in my opinion.

The example given in the story makes my case:

On Nov. 2, an el­der­ly pa­tient at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood attacked and in­jured four nurses with a metal bar. The pa­tient, who suf­fered from de­lu­sions, died as po­lice officers worked to hand­cuff him three blocks from the hos­pi­tal, officials said.
How would increasing the penalty have prevented that attack? The bigger question is, why is violence increasing (if it is), and how do we prevent it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Huddled Masses Yearning, 2014

In which the Daily Show's Al Madrigal -- broadcasting from Austin, Texas, a few weeks ago -- manages to give the lie to almost every stereotype about Mexican immigrants in a single five-minute video:

"They're not leaving until they get what they came for: A life as boring as yours."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Keeping Jews Out of Yale

It's common knowledge that elite colleges (and even high schools) in recent years have struggled to stem the wave of Asian-American students with top-flight qualifications who want to get into their schools. Our student body needs balance, they say. We can't have too many of the same group of people. They only study, they don't participate in student life. The implication: They're all the same.

But fewer people know that this has happened before, except the "over-represented" group wasn't Asians -- it was Jews.
Thanks to Maggie Koerth-Baker's enewsletter, The Fellowship of Three Things, I just found out about Jerome Karabel's book The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. You can read his chapter on how Yale tried to exclude Jews in the 1920s, thanks to Google Books. Here are some of the ways Yale's admissions men described the "Hebraic problem," which sound eerily familiar.

"Qualities of personality and character" should become allowable, not just passing the rigorous entrance exam. The admissions process should carry out "Personal Inspection of all Doubtful Candidates" and target scholarships to the "cultured, salaried class of native stock."

The chairman of admissions wrote: "it would give better publicity if we should speak of selection and of the rigid enforcement of high standards rather than of the limitation of numbers."

In October 1921, data revealed that "while Jews outperformed their non-Jewish classmates academically, they were relegated to the margins of Yale's dense extracurricular life and were totally excluded from the senior societies." Orchestra, debate, and the Socialism club were exceptions.

Jews were thought to be an "alien and unwashed element" who graduated "into the world as naked of all the attributes of refinement and honor as when born into it." They were "Alien in morals and manners" and lacking the "ethical code" of their fellow students, "taking…all that is offered or available and giving little or nothing in return." They lack "manliness, uprightness, cleanliness, native refinement, etc."

Not surprisingly, Jews weren't the only ones on Yale's list of undesirables. As one admissions officer wrote to another: "How many Jews among [the freshmen]? And are there any Coons? …Don't let any colored transfer get rooms in College."

By 1926, the school's daily newspaper had weighed in as well. Yale's new policy -- to give up on being a meritocracy of "abnormal brain specimens" -- should be based on "more consideration of the character, personality, promise and background of the individual in question." And: "Survival of the fittest should yield men who are equipped to do more than pass scholastic examinations or earn money."

Part of the new requirements included submission of a photo of the applicant, and the paper called on admissions to require photos of the applicants' fathers as well. Gee, I wonder what the point of that was?

By 1930, the percent of Jews in the freshmen class had fallen to 8.2 (after topping out in the mid-teens). The admissions men were proud they accomplished the decrease "without hue and cry and without any attempt on the part of those chiefly affected to prove that Yale had organized a pogrom." This ethnic cleansing language and thought continues: "…if we could have an Armenian massacre confined to the New Haven district, with occasional incursions into Bridgeport and Hartford, we might protect our Nordic stock almost completely."



Subscribe to Maggie Koerth-Baker's Fellowship of Three Things here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Or Does It Explode?

Today is the day Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency, even though the Darren Wilson grand jury hasn't finished its work. Saint Louise has stocked up on $200,000 worth of tear gas and plastic handcuffs. They've mobilized a thousand National Guard members.

It's four days after our local ABC affiliate, KSTP channel 5, insisted it was right to air a story saying the mayor of Minneapolis was flashing gang signs because she was pointing at a young black guy.

It's three days after the city of Saint Paul's police civilian review board decided there were no procedural errors, let alone crimes, by the cops who tased Chris Lollie for sitting in a public skyway.

Add just those three things up and it's hard to claim black people are full citizens in this country.

A state of emergency means Nixon can ban public gatherings, that police don't need probable cause, that journalists can be excluded from anywhere the government or police decide they shouldn't be.

Even without a state of emergency, Saint Paul's mayor and police stripped citizens of their rights during the 2008 Republican National Convention, carried out raids on people they thought might dare to block an intersection, limited our marches to places where convention attendees had no chance of seeing them, and kettled law-abiding protesters until they could be arrested. And all of that happened despite the fact that protest organizers met with local police for over six months to make sure things went in a way that preserved First Amendment rights, and where the protesters were mostly white and middle class.

What will a major protest -- made up largely of black people -- look like when police or soldiers empowered by a state of emergency try to control it? It'll either be complete repression, with a Boston-bomber-style house lock-in, or a military action that makes the armored personnel carriers and tear gas of Ferguson in August look like a gentle warning.

How hard would it be for the grand jury (and the prosecutor) to treat this case as if the life of the kid who died mattered? That's all anyone is asking.


In case the title of this post is not familiar, here is the source.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Got Conflicting Billboards?

Driving along the highway the other week between Oshkosh and Appleton, Wisconsin, I came upon a string of consecutive billboards. This was the beginning:

That one at the right, which reads Got God?... followed by another six or eight billboards for the same Lion's Den adult super store advertised in the first billboard, plus two more adult superstores.

Whoa, what a part of the country.