Police missteps in Trayvon Martin case hurt prosecution

 

Image: Video image of George Zimmerman under arrest

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Sanford Police Department  /  Reuters file

George Zimmerman, center, walks through a police station in Sanford, Fla., in this image from police video dated Feb. 26.
By SERGE F. KOVALESKI

updated 5/16/2012 7:24:23 PM ET 2012-05-16T23:24:23

SANFORD, Fla. — The killing of Trayvon Martin here two and a half months ago has been cast as the latest test of race relations and equal justice in America. But it was also a test of a small city police department that does not even have a homicide unit and typically handles three or four murder cases a year.

An examination of the Sanford Police Department’s handling of the case shows a series of missteps — including sloppy work — and circumstances beyond its control that impeded the investigation and may make it harder to pursue a case that is already difficult enough.

The national furor has subsided for the moment. But as the second-degree murder case against the defendant, George Zimmerman, moves from the glare of a public spectacle to the grinding procedures of the court system and eventual trial, the department’s performance, roundly criticized by Mr. Martin’s family as bungling and biased, will be scrutinized once again, though in more meticulous detail.

With doubts shadowing the quality and scope of the police work, the prosecution and the defense will be left to tackle critical questions even as they debate the evidence. And ultimately, what happened on the rainy night of Feb. 26 may come to rest on the word of one man, George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer who fired the fatal shot.

In interviews over several weeks, law enforcement authorities, witnesses and local elected officials identified problems with the initial investigation:

  • On the night of the shooting, door-to-door canvassing was not exhaustive enough, said a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation. If officers had been more thorough, they might have determined that Mr. Martin, 17, was a guest — as opposed to an intruder — at a gated community called the Retreat at Twin Lakes. That would have been an important part of the subjective analysis that night by officers sizing up Mr. Zimmerman’s story. Investigators found no witnesses who saw the fight start. Others saw parts of a struggle they could not clearly observe or hear. One witness, though, provided information to the police that corroborated Mr. Zimmerman’s account of the struggle, according to a law enforcement official.
  • The police took only one photo at the scene of any of Mr. Zimmerman’s injuries — a full-face picture of him that showed a bloodied nose — before paramedics tended to him. It was shot on a department cellphone camera and was not downloaded for a few days, an oversight by the officer who took it.
  • The vehicle that Mr. Zimmerman was driving when he first spotted Mr. Martin was mistakenly not secured by officers as part of the crime scene. The vehicle was an important link in the fatal encounter because it was where Mr. Zimmerman called the police to report a suspicious teenager in a hooded sweatshirt roaming through the Retreat. Mr. Zimmerman also said he was walking back to the vehicle when he was confronted by Mr. Martin, who was unarmed, before shooting him.
  • The police were not able to cover the crime scene to shield evidence from the rain, and any blood from cuts that Mr. Zimmerman suffered when he said Mr. Martin pounded his head into a sidewalk may have been washed away.
  • The police did not test Mr. Zimmerman for alcohol or drug use that night, and one witness said the lead investigator quickly jumped to a conclusion that it was Mr. Zimmerman, and not Mr. Martin, who cried for help during the struggle.

Some Sanford officers were skeptical from the beginning about certain details of Mr. Zimmerman’s account. For instance, he told the police that Mr. Martin had punched him over and over again, but they questioned whether his injuries were consistent with the number of blows he claimed he received. They also suspected that some of the threatening and dramatic language that Mr. Zimmerman said Mr. Martin uttered during the struggle — like “You are going to die tonight” — sounded contrived.

The Sanford police — who contended that their 16-day investigation, done in consultation with the original prosecutor in the case, was detailed and impartial — also encountered other obstacles. One involved the investigators’ inability to get the password for Mr. Martin’s cellphone from his family, who apparently did not know it. That was significant because Mr. Martin had been talking to a girl on the phone moments before he was killed, but the young woman did not contact the police after Mr. Martin’s death was made public.

Out of reach
From what is known of the investigation and the available evidence, what exactly happened in the dimly lighted residential development that Sunday night may remain out of reach. Given Mr. Zimmerman’s assertion that he was acting in self-defense, and lacking enough evidence to the contrary, the original prosecutor in the case, Norm Wolfinger, whose jurisdiction includes Sanford, filed no charges against him.

That decision resulted in an increasingly strident public outcry. After Gov. Rick Scott of Florida contacted Mr. Wolfinger and had a conversation with him in late March, the prosecutor recused himself, citing, among other things, an unspecified conflict of interest.

The governor selected another state attorney to handle the case, Angela B. Corey of the Jacksonville area. On April 11, after nearly three weeks of investigation, Ms. Corey charged Mr. Zimmerman with second-degree murder. An accompanying affidavit said that Mr. Zimmerman had “profiled” Mr. Martin and had assumed he was a criminal.

Image: Sanford, Fla., Police Department Chief Bill Lee Jr.

Mario Tama  /  Getty Images file

Sanford, Fla., Police Department Chief Bill Lee Jr. temporarily stepped aside in March to quell the furor and later offered to resign.

Ms. Corey declined to be interviewed, as did Mr. Wolfinger. Governor Scott also declined several requests for an interview about how and why he selected Ms. Corey for the case.

In announcing the charge, Ms. Corey praised the Sanford Police Department’s work, indicating that it had conducted a “thorough and intensive” inquiry and was a “tremendous help” to her office. What appears unchanged since the beginning, however, is that investigators say they do not know who started the fight. Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which has come to shadow a number of homicide cases since it was adopted in 2005, justifies the use of deadly force in certain threatening situations but does not require a person to retreat. The law became the framework within which the police and prosecutors had to work after Mr. Zimmerman claimed that Mr. Martin confronted and pounced on him.

Mr. Zimmerman had called the police from his vehicle to report what he believed was a suspicious person in the Retreat, something he had done numerous times in the past. He later told investigators that he got out of his vehicle and followed Mr. Martin but lost sight of him. As Mr. Zimmerman was returning to his vehicle, he told them, Mr. Martin emerged and then attacked him. Mr. Zimmerman told investigators that at one point, Mr. Martin had his hand over his mouth. And before he shot the youth, he explained to the police, Mr. Martin had reached for Mr. Zimmerman’s gun.

“There is a perception that we were trying to protect George Zimmerman,” the Sanford police chief, Bill Lee Jr., who temporarily stepped aside in March to quell the furor and later offered to resign, said in a recent interview. “We think that what he did was terrible. We wish that he had just stayed in his vehicle.”“There was no bias in the investigation. We did not lean one way or another. We were looking for the truth,” he said.

Chief Lee declined to discuss specifics about the case, but he added, “I have been frustrated by the negative attention the police and the city have received that does not accurately reflect who we are and what we have done in this investigation.”

Eight minutes
At 7:09 p.m., Mr. Zimmerman, who was driving to a Target store, made his call to a police dispatcher.

Within eight minutes, Mr. Martin was dead from a gunshot wound to the chest, his body crumpled on a stretch of grass behind a row of town houses. When the first officer arrived at 7:17, Mr. Zimmerman was waiting not far from the body. He raised his hands in surrender before relinquishing his 9-millimeter pistol from the holster in his waistband.

and taken into “investigative detention” at Sanford police headquarters, where he was read his Miranda rights and answered questions without a lawyer present. Investigators described him as unhesitatingly cooperative. At some point, Mr. Zimmerman provided the police with a permit allowing him to carry a concealed weapon. His clothes were taken into evidence after his wife came to the station with a new set.

A law enforcement official said officers did not seize Mr. Zimmerman’s vehicle because they thought that he had been on foot. They did not realize that he had been driving until after his wife had moved the vehicle, the official said.

The official said he believed that the police, in the hours after the shooting, sought to determine whether Mr. Zimmerman was wanted for any crimes. But he said they did not have a complete background check in hand until midmorning the next day — after Mr. Zimmerman had been released. The records showed a domestic violence dispute with a woman who identified herself as his ex-fiancée and a run-in with a state alcohol agent, neither of which resulted in a conviction.

As for the officer at the scene who took the single full-face photo of Mr. Zimmerman — he suffered a nose fracture and other injuries during the struggle — he called an investigator “in a panic” over his failure to download it sooner, according to a person familiar with the case. Other photos of Mr. Zimmerman’s injuries were later shot at police headquarters, although he had been cleaned up by paramedics by then.

Identification delayed
Another investigator briefed on the case said officers should have been more thorough as they knocked on doors in the neighborhood: they might have learned Mr. Martin’s identity early and that he was staying at the town house of his father’s girlfriend and was not trespassing. At the time of the shooting, the girlfriend’s 14-year-old son was waiting for Mr. Martin to return from a 7-Eleven store, where he had bought a bag of Skittles candies and a can of iced tea. Mr. Martin was not identified until Monday morning, about 12 hours after he was killed, when the police learned that his father, Tracy Martin, had reported him as missing.

One witness said a police investigator twice declined her offer to show him the close and unobstructed vantage point from a partly opened bedroom window where she had watched and heard the struggle between Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman. The witness, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition she remain anonymous because the investigation is active, said the detective taped part of her account.

She also recalled telling him that night that she was haunted by the cries for help she believed came from Mr. Martin during the struggle. But she said the investigator seemed to have already formed an opinion about what had happened. He told her, she said, that it was Mr. Zimmerman — not Mr. Martin — who was the one screaming, an assertion that remains in dispute.

More than a month later, she and her lawyer, Derek Brett of Orlando, met with two investigators from Ms. Corey’s office. Mr. Brett said his client was subject to only 15 minutes or so of “substantive questioning.”

“This surprised me because when something is not done properly, in this instance by the police, you sit down and do more than just fill in the blanks,” he said.

On the night of the shooting, the police were assisted by the Seminole County sheriff’s office, which sent a representative to the scene with a live fingerprint scanner to see if a match showed up for Mr. Martin. It did not.

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Martins, said that Mr. Martin was carrying a T-Mobile Comet phone and that the police contacted his father a day or two after the shooting to get the password, but he did not know it.

Autopsy: Trayvon Martin shot from ‘intermediate range’ A law enforcement official said that the phone had died not long after the police retrieved it, and that it took days for the authorities to get a charger and an expert to try to get into the device. If the police had been able to get access to it, they could have interviewed Mr. Martin’s friend about what he had told her in those final moments of his life and what else she had heard. The police eventually subpoenaed Mr. Martin’s cellphone records, but did not receive them in a timely fashion.

The official said that while the police never tested Mr. Zimmerman for alcohol or drugs, such decisions are left to the discretion of investigators based on whether they have reason to suspect the person is under the influence. (The medical examiner in the case did a routine toxicology screening of Mr. Martin; the results have not been made public.)

Department defended
Sgt. David Morgenstern, spokesman for the Sanford police, said he could not say much about the case because the investigation was continuing. But he said of the officer who took one photo of Mr. Zimmerman at the scene: “I don’t think that is wrong because subsequent photos can be taken within hours. They might not be as graphic but they still will depict the injuries somebody might have.”

Over all, Chief Lee, whose resignation was not accepted by the City Commission last month in a surprise vote, said in an interview that his department’s work was as fair and thorough as possible.

Video: New evidence in Trayvon Martin shooting (on this page)“I am confident about the investigation, and I was satisfied with the amount of evidence and testimony we got in the time we had the case,” he said.

“We were basing our decisions, which were made in concert with the state attorney’s office, on the findings of the investigation at the time,” he added, “and we were abiding by the Florida law that covers self-defense.”

Sorting the evidence
The Sanford Police Department assigns homicide cases to its five investigators who handle major crimes. Their wide-ranging responsibilities cover everything from sex crimes to carjackings. On the evening that Mr. Martin was fatally shot, the head of the major crimes unit was on vacation. The rotation supervisor on call was a sergeant who works narcotics cases. In all, more than a dozen officers and department superiors were on the scene of Mr. Martin’s killing — which the police said was Sanford’s first homicide of 2012 — including Chief Lee, who joined the department last May.

In the two weeks after the shooting, the police were in regular contact with the office of Mr. Wolfinger, the first prosecutor in the case, sharing their findings and suspicions with him and his staff.

The police conducted a lie-detection procedure, known as voice stress analysis, on Mr. Zimmerman that he passed, and they had him re-enact the encounter with Mr. Martin back at the Retreat the day after the shooting. But the operating belief was that the police did not have enough evidence to establish probable cause for a manslaughter charge and an arrest, according to officials with knowledge of the case.

At one department meeting a few days after Mr. Martin’s death, a representative from Mr. Wolfinger’s office was told about the inconsistencies the police saw in Mr. Zimmerman’s account. The prosecutor told them he understood that the police were trying to build a case against Mr. Zimmerman, though they did not have adequate evidence, according to a law enforcement official. It was decided that more work was needed on the case.

As the national uproar intensified, the Sanford city manager, Norton N. Bonaparte Jr., and Mayor Jeff Triplett were growing eager to have the police send the case to Mr. Wolfinger to get it moving through the justice system. The police did so just over two weeks after Mr. Martin’s death. They included a recommendation that Mr. Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter, a position that one law enforcement official described as “weak,” and that the prosecutor did not act on.

Ms. Corey’s decision to charge Mr. Zimmerman with second-degree murder fueled even more criticism of the police. Mr. Zimmerman has since entered a written plea of not guilty.

This article, “Trayvon Martin Case Shadowed by Series of Police Missteps,” first appeared in The New York Times.

Copyright © 2012 The New York Times

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America’s New Slavery: Black Men in Prison

The U.S. leads the world: it has the highest fraction of population in prison, 0.7% vs a world median of roughly 0.1%. With 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. hosts upward of 20 percent of the world’s prisoners. It imprisons more people per capita than any other country on earth. In 1980, there were about 220 people incarcerated for every 100.000 Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to 731. No other country even approaches that. The U.S. incarceration rate has roughly quintupled since the early 1970s. About 2 million Americans currently live behind bars. States like California now spend more on locking people up than on funding higher education.

The following article by Charlene Muhahmed fleshes out the statistics.  It is an important issue, for all of us, white black and brown.

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent-

(FinalCall.com) – A new American slave trade is booming, warn prison activists, following the release of a report that again outlines outrageous numbers of young Black men in prison and increasing numbers of adults undergoing incarceration. That slave trade is connected to money states spend to keep people locked up, profits made through cheap prison labor and for-profit prisons, excessive charges inmates and families may pay for everything from tube socks to phone calls, and lucrative cross country shipping of inmates to relieve overcrowding and rent cells in faraway states and counties.

Advocates note that the constitution’s 13th amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery in the United States, but provided an exception—in cases where persons have been “duly convicted” in the United States and territory it controls, slavery or involuntary servitude can be reimposed as a punishment, they add. The majority of prisoners are Black and Latino, though they are minorities in terms of their numbers in the population.

According to “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” published by the Pew Center on the States, one in nine Black men between the ages of 20-34 are incarcerated compared to one in 30 other men of the same age. Like the overall adult ratio, one in 100 Black women in their mid-to-late 30s is imprisoned.

“Everyone is feeding off of our down-trodden condition to feed their capitalism, greed and lust for money. They are buying prison stock on the market and this is why they want to silence the restorative voice of Minister Louis Farrakhan, because he is repairing those who fill and would support the prison system as slaves,” said Student Minister Abdullah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam Prison Ministry.

The report states that the rising trend stems from more than a parallel increase in crime or surge in the population at large, but it is driven by policies that put more criminals in prison, extending their stay through measures like California’s Three Strikes Law.

Atty. Barbara Ratliff, a L.A.-based reparations activist, said the prison industrial complex’s extension of the slave plantation plays out in a pattern of behavior that Black people must study in order to survive. “I’m not talking about behavior of the individual incarcerate, but the pattern of treatment that digs into institutional racism. Corporate profit from prisons is no different than how slave owners received benefit from their labor, and that impact remained even after slavery. For instance, freed Blacks were arrested and put on chain gangs for their labor which continued to benefit slave owners, so this is no accident,” she said.

Inmates produce items or perform services for almost every major industry. They sew clothes, fight fires and build furniture, but they are paid little or no wages, somewhere between five cents and almost $2.

Phone companies charge high amounts for collect calls and inmate care packages can no longer be sent from families directly. Inmates must purchase products from companies to be sent in, which feeds capitalism, activists charge.

Although the costs of prisons is skyrocketing and consuming state budgets, money continues to be spent to push more Black youth into prison, activists assert. Many education and prison advocates charge there is a plot to populate U.S. prisons based on the dumbing down of America’s youth. Figures show those most likely to be incarcerated and to return generally have the lowest level of education. The report said, “While states don’t necessarily choose between higher education and corrections, a dollar spent in one area is unavailable for another.”

U.S. spending on prisons last year topped $49 billion, compared to $12 billion in 1987. California spent $8.8 billion on prisons last year and 13 states spend more than $1 billion a year on corrections.

Data from the National Association of State Budget Officers indicates:

• Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware spent as much or more on corrections than on higher education;

• For every dollar spent on higher education, Alaska spent 77 cents on corrections;

• For every dollar spent on higher education, Georgia spent 50 cents on corrections;

• On the average, all 50 states spent 60 cents on corrections for every dollar spent on higher education; and

• For every dollar spent on higher education, Minnesota spent 17 cents on corrections.

Between 1985 and 2005, Texas’ prison population alone jumped by 300 percent.

“All we have to do is follow the logic to see this connection between prisons and enslavement. When you look at prison costs and they say it cost $45,000 to house one prisoner, where does that break down? There’s only three square meals a day. The prisoners make their clothes and bedding in sewing factories and about 90 percent of the items they use in the prisons,” said Nathaniel Ali of the National Association of Brothers and Sisters In and Out of Prison (NABSIO).

He believes the majority of prison costs support guard unions and pay enormous base and overtime salaries of prison guards and other staff.

“They receive these exorbitant wages regardless of their education and training. You don’t have an I.Q.; all you have to have is the ability to be brutal” to command these wages through this new slave system, he said.

Mr. Ali said the public school system has become the feeder to prisons and their slave populations by increasing the heavy presence of school police and sheriffs on middle school campuses and penalties students face for often trivial offenses, other activists added.

Prison watch groups note corporate-owned prisons feed job-starved communities where businesses have disappeared. By incarcerating so many people, America deals with warehousing them and not finding out why they are incarcerated in the first place, advocates said.

“The fact is, it’s a business and a readily accessible, ‘free’ workforce removes prisons’ incentive to rehabilitate, especially those that are owned by corporations,” Atty. Ratliff said.

Laini Coffee, a self-described “unity activist” said, “At current trend, we could very well see the number of so-called free Blacks rival to the same number of those that are incarcerated. The answer is simple: Unity.”

The New Jim Crow

Jarvious Cotton cannot vote.

Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises—the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in theUnited States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.

Cotton’s story illustrates, in many respects, the old adage “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” In each generation, new tactics have been used for achieving the same goals—goals shared by the Founding Fathers. Denying African Americans citizenship was deemed essential to the formation of the original union. Hundreds of years later,Americais still not an egalitarian democracy. The arguments and rationalizations that have been trotted out in support of racial exclusion and discrimination in its various forms have changed and evolved, but the outcome has remained largely the same. An extraordinary percentage of black men in theUnited Statesare legally barred from voting today, just as they have been throughout most of American history. They are also subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service, just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents once were.
What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury ser vice—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living inAlabamaat the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste inAmerica; we have merely redesigned it.
I reached the conclusions presented in this book reluctantly. Ten years ago, I would have argued strenuously against the central claim made here—namely, that something akin to a racial caste system currently exists in theUnited States. Indeed, if Barack Obama had been elected president back then, I would have argued that his election marked the nation’s triumph over racial caste—the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow. My elation would have been tempered by the distance yet to be traveled to reach the promised land of racial justice inAmerica, but my conviction that nothing remotely similar to Jim Crow exists in this country would have been steadfast.
Today my elation over Obama’s election is tempered by a far more sobering awareness. As an African American woman, with three young children who will never know a world in which a black man could not be president of theUnited States, I was beyond thrilled on election night. Yet when I walked out of the election night party, full of hope and enthusiasm, I was immediately reminded of the harsh realities of the New Jim Crow. A black man was on his knees in the gutter, hands cuffed behind his back, as several police officers stood around him talking, joking, and ignoring his human existence. People poured out of the building; many stared for a moment at the black man cowering in the street, and then averted their gaze. What did the election of Barack Obama mean for him?
Like many civil rights lawyers, I was inspired to attend law school by the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 1960s. Even in the face of growing social and political opposition to remedial policies such as affirmative action, I clung to the notion that the evils of Jim Crow are behind us and that, while we have a long way to go to fulfill the dream of an egalitarian, multiracial democracy, we have made real progress and are now struggling to hold on to the gains of the past. I thought my job as a civil rights lawyer was to join with the allies of racial progress to resist attacks on affirmative action and to eliminate the vestiges of Jim Crow segregation, including our still separate and unequal system of education. I understood the problems plaguing poor communities of color, including problems associated with crime and rising incarceration rates, to be a function of poverty and lack of access to quality education—the continuing legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Never did I seriously consider the possibility that a new racial caste system was operating in this country. The new system had been developed and implemented swiftly, and it was largely invisible, even to people, like me, who spent most of their waking hours fighting for justice.
I first encountered the idea of a new racial caste system more than a decade ago, when a bright orange poster caught my eye. I was rushing to catch the bus, and I noticed a sign stapled to a telephone pole that screamed in large bold print: The Drug War Is the New Jim Crow. I paused for a moment and skimmed the text of the flyer. Some radical group was holding a community meeting about police brutality, the new three-strikes law inCalifornia, and the expansion ofAmerica’s prison system. The meeting was being held at a small community church a few blocks away; it had seating capacity for no more than fifty people. I sighed, and muttered to myself something like, “Yeah, the criminal justice system is racist in many ways, but it really doesn’t help to make such an absurd comparison. People will just think you’re crazy.” I then crossed the street and hopped on the bus. I was headed to my new job, director of the Racial Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) inNorthern California.
When I began my work at the ACLU, I assumed that the criminal justice system had problems of racial bias, much in the same way that all major institutions in our society are plagued with problems associated with conscious and unconscious bias. As a lawyer who had litigated numerous class-action employment-discrimination cases, I understood well the many ways in which racial stereotyping can permeate subjective decision-making processes at all levels of an organization, with devastating consequences. I was familiar with the challenges associated with reforming institutions in which racial stratification is thought to be normal—the natural consequence of differences in education, culture, motivation, and, some still believe, innate ability. While at the ACLU, I shifted my focus from employment discrimination to criminal justice reform and dedicated myself to the task of working with others to identify and eliminate racial bias whenever and wherever it reared its ugly head.
By the time I left the ACLU, I had come to suspect that I was wrong about the criminal justice system. It was not just another institution infected with racial bias but rather a different beast entirely. The activists who posted the sign on the telephone pole were not crazy; nor were the smattering of lawyers and advocates around the country who were beginning to connect the dots between our current system of mass incarceration and earlier forms of social control. Quite belatedly, I came to see that mass incarceration in theUnited Stateshad, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.
 

http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Crow-Incarceration-Colorblindness/dp/1595581030

Mothers We Could Save

Nicholas D. Kristof
 
Here’s a Mother’s Day thought: There’s a way to save many of the world’s 350,000 women who die in childbirth each year. But it’s very controversial, for it’s called family planning.
Republicans in Congress have gone on the warpath this budget season against family planning programs at home and abroad. To illustrate the stakes, let me share a Mother’s Day story about a pregnant 30-year-old Somali woman named Hinda Hassan.
Ms. Hassan lived in a village near this remote town of Baligubadle in Somaliland (a self-ruling enclave carved from Somalia). She never used family planning, for none is available within several days’ walk. When her eighth child was still an infant, she became pregnant again.
“I was happy when she became pregnant,” said her husband, Muhammad Isse, who tends a herd of 13 camels with his family. “I was very happy, because I had faith in God.”
When Ms. Hassan went into labor, she was looked after by two traditional birth attendants, both of them unschooled, untrained and unequipped. “We try to wash our hands with soap and water,” one of them, Amina Ahmed, told me. “But sometimes we don’t have soap. And if there is no water, we rub our hands in the sand to clean them.”
Ms. Hassan’s labor did not go well. After 11 hours, her husband paid a man with a pickup truck $50 to drive her three hours to the clinic here in Baligubadle. The clinic couldn’t help Ms. Hassan and sent her on another two-and-a-half-hour bone-rattling drive in the back of the pickup to the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa. Shortly after Ms. Hassan arrived at the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital (mentioned in my last column), she died.
Her death was infuriatingly unnecessary — and I felt doubly saddened when I met some of her eight orphans.
There are any number of ways that Ms. Hassan’s life could have been saved. She had an off-the-charts hemoglobin level of just 4, reflecting a stunning level of anemia. A trained midwife could have given her a deworming pill and iron supplements early in the pregnancy, addressing that anemia and strengthening her. Later, Ms. Hassan developed a complication called eclampsia that would have been detected if she had had pre-natal care.
Yet maybe the simplest way to save her life would have been contraception. If Somali women had half as many pregnancies (they now average six births), there would be only half as many maternal deaths. But modern contraception doesn’t exist in this part of Somaliland.
“The only method of family planning we have is breast-feeding,” said Nimo Abdi, the midwife at the clinic here, noting that breast-feeding reduces the likelihood of a new pregnancy. Ms. Abdi thinks that some local people would accept modern contraceptives if they were available.
“If I had injectables and condoms, people would accept them,” she said. “They would want them.”
I wonder if that isn’t a bit optimistic; in a place like this, family planning requires much more than just handing out contraceptives. Ms. Hassan’s husband told me that he had never heard of contraception, and he sounded wary of the idea.
Many people in poor countries want large families, partly to ensure that some will survive despite high death rates. Or a woman may distrust contraceptives or fear her husband’s reaction if she is caught using them.
By United Nations estimates, 215 million women worldwide have an “unmet need” for family planning, meaning they don’t want to become pregnant but are not using effective contraception. The Guttmacher Institute, a widely respected research organization, estimates that if all the unmet need for contraception were met, the result would be 94,000 fewer women dying of pregnancy complications each year, and almost 25 million fewer abortions each year.
Greater access to birth control would also help check the world population, which the United Nations warned a few days ago is rising more quickly than expected. The U.N. now projects the total population in 2100 will be 10.1 billion.
Yet this year, Republicans in Congress have been trying to slash investments in family planning. A budget compromise last month cut international family planning spending by 5 percent, but some Republicans are expected to seek much bigger cuts in future years.
If they succeed, the consequences will be felt in places like this remote Somali town. Women won’t get access to contraceptives, and the parade of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, fistulas, and mothers dying in childbirth will continue.
Ah, but there was one Republican-sponsored initiative for family planning in Congress this year. It provided contraception without conditions — for wild horses in the American West. It passed on a voice vote.
Maybe on Mother’s Day, we could acknowledge that family planning is just as essential for humans as for horses.
 

Neighborhood Bully

The Republican Party seems determined to make the Presidential race about hate, and division.
After President Obama’s statement saying “All Americans are equal under the law, “
Romney couldn’t get to a microphone fast enough to say, “I believe marriage is between one man and one woman.”
His grandfather didn’t believe that however, his grandfather, a Mormon priest, believed marriage was between one man and as many women as one could obtain.
I think the President felt compelled to speak out on this issue in his statement Wednesday
, saying his evolution on the issue was in part brought about by conversations with his children, who being young children, haven’t learned to hate yet, as the young Romney apparently did.
In High school, as most Americans now know, Romney assaulted, with the aid of his “posse”, a young gay man and forcibly cut his hair while his friends held the terrified young man down.
He also, according to several witnesses, tricked a blind professor into walking into a wooden door that Romney pretended to open.
The witnesses said Romney laughed hysterically at the Professors pain and embarrassment.
This is further reinforced by an interview he gave on an obscure Fox radio program.
When asked if he had assaulted a student in the way described by fellow students, Romney laughed.
Then he said, when asked if he had committed a hate crime, by attacking a gay youngster he responded, “We didn’t talk about homosexuality in the ’60’s. Unfortunately for Romney, anyone born and coming of age in the “60s, knows that was is not true.
We knew about gay people.
Most people called them “queers” back then.
Most people refer to them as “gays” today, Romney however, calls them “Homosexuals”.
This is the man who said, for the record, “I am not concerned about poor people”, and, “I enjoy firing people.”
 
Romney, if elected President, would give new meaning to the term, “Bully pulpit.”
 

How Bad Was Mitt Romney’s Prep School Bullying?

By |Posted Thursday, May 10, 2012, at 1:03 PM ET

Mitt Romney senior photo 1965

Mitt Romney senior photo 1965
Courtesy Cranbrook Schools.

In a must-read piece today, the Washington Post’s Jason Horowitz reports that Mitt Romney was a prep school meanie. The story, which Horowitz got independently from five of Romney’s former classmates, is that after spring break in 1965, Romney came back to Cranbrook, his all-male private school in Michigan, and noticed that John Lauber, a new student a year younger than him, was wearing his hair bleached blond and hanging down over one eye. Lauber generally got teased for looking different and seeming gay, though he was not out. Romney’s friend at the time, Matthew Friedemann, recalls that Romney said of Lauber, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” Romney kept complaining, and a few days later led a “prep school posse” that “came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground.”

Here’s the clincher: “As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.”

Remembering the incident, one witness told the Post, “to this day it troubles me.” Another called it “vicious.” Friedemann said he feels badly he didn’t try to stop it.  A fourth witness ran into Lauber at an airport bar three decades later and apologized to him. He says Lauber responded, “It was horrible,” and “It’s something I’ve thought about a lot since then.” Lauber, who was later expelled from Cranbrook for smoking a cigarette, eventually came out and lived a “vagabond” life, according to Horowitz, who spoke with Lauber’s sisters.  He died in 2004.

Through a spokeswoman, Romney at first called the story “exaggerated and off base.” On Thursday morning, he went on the radio to apologize. “I don’t remember that incident,” Romney said, laughing. “I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case.”

Let’s assume that the details five other people (most but not all of them Democrats) keenly recall are true. How bad is this, as an example of bullying? Was this just the sort of thing that went on at boarding schools in the 1960s? Or does it show a troubling lack of empathy on the part of Romney? The short answer is that it’s both.

Slate founder Michael Kinsley graduated from Cranbrook in 1968, overlapping with Romney, and remembers the school as fairly progressive. He put the story about Romney into the category of things teenage boys do that they’re later ashamed of—not beyond the bounds of Cranbrook’s culture in those days, if also not good. “He missed an opportunity,” Kinsley said. “If he could go back, he’d have broken up that group rather than leading it.”

In lashing out at kids who were perceived as effeminate, Romney wasn’t alone. Horowitz recounts that when Romney shouted “Atta girl!” at another closeted gay student who tried to speak up in English class, he was using language of the sort even teachers employed. Kinsley says that’s plausible but not typical.

Mitt and George Romney on Commencement Day, June 1965

Mitt and George Romney on Commencement Day, June 1965
Courtesy Cranbrook Schools.

Technically speaking, the Post account doesn’t make Romney a bully. The academic definition of bullying is verbal or physical abuse that involves a power imbalance and that’s also repeated. We don’t have evidence that Romney went after Lauber more than once. But given the nature of the incident, it may be splitting hairs to absolve him of bullying. As the child abuse expert David Finkelhor has written, one-off acts of cruelty can also count as serious peer victimization and are very much worth addressing. If Romney was a high school student who did this today and got caught, he’d be punished, and for good reason. In retrospect, the idea that he got away with this act of cruelty while Lauber ended up kicked out of school for smoking seems unjust.

It’s telling that decades later, Lauber remembered the hair-cutting and said he’d dwelled on it. Though it seems to have been a lone act, it was one that could well have had a lasting effect: Lauber would have had to walk around shorn afterward, marked for everyone to see. And even if Romney didn’t see the incident as anti-gay, that subtext is significant for thinking about the impact on Lauber. LGBT students are still more likely to be bullied and victimized by other kids: In a 2009 national survey, 85 percent of kids who identify as LGBT said they’d been verbally harassed at school, 40 percent physically harassed, and nearly 20 percent physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. The consequences have been laid out by researchers: Boys who are targets have higher levels of anxiety and depression. For girls, being taunted as a lesbian is linked to social withdrawal. Students who are harassed because of their sexual identity miss substantially more school and, in one study, earned lower grades. And in a study of young gay adults between the ages of 21 and 25, the ones who reported being bullied frequently in middle school and high school were over five times more likely to say they’d attempted suicide than the ones who hadn’t been victimized.

Romney, of course, wouldn’t have known any of this in 1965, and it’s not fair to hold him to today’s standard of awareness. The idea of homophobia wouldn’t have existed at Cranbrook then, Kinsley says. But it is fair to ask what rounding up a bunch of other students to pin a kid down and cut off his hair says about Romney’s sense of empathy. At that moment in time, he showed a startling lack of fellow feeling for John Lauber. This is the aspect of bullying I’ve found most disturbing, in my reporting on it. Experts say that when a powerful kid turns on a weaker one the way Romney did, he can experience a chilling cognitive shift, and come to see his victim as worthless. For a small number of kids who bully, this state of mind hardens, and they become people who can inflict pain without feeling compassion or remorse. Luckily, that is exceedingly rare. Most kids are pitiless one moment and then soften the next. Surely we can put Mitt Romney into this category. This high school incident of cruelty doesn’t mean that he is a cruel person.

At the same time, it does give the lie to this statement from his spokesperson: “Anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body.” However true that may be today, like plenty of other people, Romney did reveal a mean streak in adolescence. As a teenager, he apparently saw a kid who didn’t conform to his idea of normal and went after him, cruelly, methodically, and aggressively. It’s not surprising that Romney would have been a straight-laced, by-the-book kind of student who policed gender norms, to use the parlance of our time. But it is surprising that he was such a jerk about it.

It’s also worth pointing out, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has, that as a Yale sophomore in 1965, George W. Bush reportedly stuck up for a reputedly gay student.  Bush heard the student being called “queer,” told the taunters to shut up, and apparently also said, “Why don’t you try walking in his shoes for a while?” That’s the kind of instinctive compassion Mitt Romney failed to show when he was a few years younger than Bush was.

 

President Obama “Equality For All Under the Law”

For nearly four years the President has tried to appease the right wing.
He has been a steadfast moderate.
As a result of his centrist political stance, the progressives in the Democratic party have become, at best, unenthusiastic, some have become disillusioned, and some have reacted with anger.
Democrats say, “He is no different than Bush, he pursues the same policies, the same agenda, he’s just a better speaker.”
It is important to realize there is a difference.
The choice between Mitt Romney and President Obama is a no-brainer.
Mitt Romney inherited millions of dollars.
He has no conception of what it is like to work for a living, to struggle financially.
His wife recently said, “We have never had to struggle financially, but we have compassion for those who have.”
Mitt Romney almost singlehandedly has cost thousands of American jobs, in his work with Bain Capital.
What Bain does is buy a company, strip it’s assets, fire the workers, and relocate the jobs in foreign countries.
When Romney says he has created jobs, he is telling the truth.
He has created thousands of jobs in India and China.
As much as the President has tried to appease the radical right, they still attack him savagely.
They call him a Muslim.
A communist.
They say, “He is not like us.” (Read, ‘he’s black’)
Slowly it appears that the President has come to realize that he will never win the support of the far right.
Recently he has said things like, “People need to decide, are they with corporations that are making billions of dollars in profits and not paying their fair share of taxes, or are they with the middle class?”
 
Today the President of the United States came out in favor of marriage equality.
It’s about time.
 
North Carolina recently passed the first amendment in their history, outlawing gays.
Like Iran.
 
Who’s side are you on?