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

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

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.”
 

Current Programs Aren’t Working

Kristiane Chappell

Kristiane Chappell is trying to save her disabled mother’s home in California from foreclosure.

The federal programs currently in place to help struggling homeowners will continue to have minimal effect on the foreclosure crisis unless significant changes are made.

Three changes that would help those of us facing foreclosure.

For starters, principle reduction for underwater mortgages or qualifying hardships, like permanent disability or the death of a spouse, would help many people nationwide stay in their homes. The Federal Housing Administration (F.H.A.) requires lenders to provide matching funds to utilize the current version of that program. As a result few lenders participate. If matching funds were no longer a requirement, qualified borrowers could take advantage of that program.

Second, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and F.H.A. guidelines should be changed to allow greater flexibility in what lenders can do to keep a person in their home. Currently, only a certain percentage of a loan can be deferred under HAMP guidelines. The equation does not take into account that thousands of loans are underwater. If the house is worth less than the original loan, F.H.A guidelines should allow a higher percentage to be deferred.

Finally, foreclosure blight lowers property values of entire neighborhoods. Banks should rent out houses that remain vacant for more three months. Renters, like home owners, bring revenue into to their local communities. This will prevent homes from falling into disrepair due to extended vacancy. Homeowners that are foreclosed on could be given the option of renting back the property at a fair market rate. Families would be saved the stress and expense of moving. And banks would continue to receive monthly payments.

Topics: Economy, housing, mortgages

Conservatism Thrives on Low Intelligence and Poor Information

 First Published on :

 

There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood.

February 12, 2012  |  
 
 
 Self-deprecating, too liberal for their own good, today’s progressives stand back and watch, hands over their mouths, as the social vivisectionists of the right slice up a living society to see if its component parts can survive in isolation. Tied up in knots of reticence and self-doubt, they will not shout stop. Doing so requires an act of interruption, of presumption, for which they no longer possess a vocabulary.

Perhaps it is in the same spirit of liberal constipation that, with the exception of Charlie Brooker, we have been too polite to mention the Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence. Paradoxically it was the Daily Mail that brought it to the attention of British readers last week. It feels crude, illiberal to point out that the other side is, on average, more stupid than our own. But this, the study suggests, is not unfounded generalisation but empirical fact.

It is by no means the first such paper. There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly “different” others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking.

But, drawing on a sample size of several thousand, correcting for both education and socioeconomic status, the new study looks embarrassingly robust. Importantly, it shows that prejudice tends not to arise directly from low intelligence but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn. Conservative ideology is the “critical pathway” from low intelligence to racism. Those with low cognitive abilities are attracted to “rightwing ideologies that promote coherence and order” and “emphasise the maintenance of the status quo”. Even for someone not yet renowned for liberal reticence, this feels hard to write.

This is not to suggest that all conservatives are stupid. There are some very clever people in government, advising politicians, running thinktanks and writing for newspapers, who have acquired power and influence by promoting rightwing ideologies.

But what we now see among their parties – however intelligent their guiding spirits may be – is the abandonment of any pretence of high-minded conservatism. On both sides of the Atlantic, conservative strategists have discovered that there is no pool so shallow that several million people won’t drown in it. Whether they are promoting the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the US, that man-made climate change is an eco-fascist-communist-anarchist conspiracy, or that the deficit results from the greed of the poor, they now appeal to the basest, stupidest impulses, and find that it does them no harm in the polls.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that “conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics“. The result is a “shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology” which has “ominous real-world consequences for American society”.

Lofgren complains that “the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital centre today“. The Republican party, with its “prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science” is appealing to what he calls the “low-information voter”, or the “misinformation voter”. While most office holders probably don’t believe the “reactionary and paranoid claptrap” they peddle, “they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base”.

The madness hasn’t gone as far in the UK, but the effects of the Conservative appeal to stupidity are making themselves felt. This week the Guardian reported that recipients of disability benefits, scapegoated by the government as scroungers, blamed for the deficit, now find themselves subject to a new level of hostility and threats from other people.

These are the perfect conditions for a billionaires’ feeding frenzy. Any party elected by misinformed, suggestible voters becomes a vehicle for undisclosed interests. A tax break for the 1% is dressed up as freedom for the 99%. The regulation that prevents big banks and corporations exploiting us becomes an assault on the working man and woman. Those of us who discuss man-made climate change are cast as elitists by people who happily embrace the claims of Lord MoncktonLord Lawson or thinktanks funded by ExxonMobil or the Koch brothers: now the authentic voices of the working class.

But when I survey this wreckage I wonder who the real idiots are. Confronted with mass discontent, the once-progressive major parties, as Thomas Frank laments in his latest book Pity the Billionaire, triangulate and accommodate, hesitate and prevaricate, muzzled by what he calls “terminal niceness”. They fail to produce a coherent analysis of what has gone wrong and why, or to make an uncluttered case for social justice, redistribution and regulation. The conceptual stupidities of conservatism are matched by the strategic stupidities of liberalism.

Yes, conservatism thrives on low intelligence and poor information. But the liberals in politics on both sides of the Atlantic continue to back off, yielding to the supremacy of the stupid. It’s turkeys all the way down.

George Monbiot is the author Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. Read more of his writings at Monbiot.com.

 
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Obama Didn’t “Cave”

Published  by CommonDreams.org

In  a campaign almost as frenzied as the effort to get Barack Obama into the White House, liberal groups are now mobilizing against the White House and reported deals that would cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. They accuse President Obama of being weak and willing to “cave” to corporate and conservative forces bent on cutting the social safety net while protecting the wealthy.
Those accusations are wrong.
The accusations imply that Obama is on our side. Or was on our side. And that the right wing is pushing him around.
But the evidence is clear that Obama is an often-willing servant of corporate interests — not someone reluctantly doing their bidding, or serving their interests only because Republicans forced him to.
Since coming to Washington, Obama has allied himself with Wall Street Democrats who put corporate deregulation and greed ahead of the needs of most Americans:
·         In 2006, a relatively new Senator Obama was the only senator to speak at the inaugural gathering of the Alexander Hamilton Project launched by Wall Street Democrats like Robert Rubin and Roger Altman, Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary and deputy secretary. Obama praised them as “innovative, thoughtful policymakers.” (It was Rubin’s crusade to deregulate Wall Street in the late ‘90s that led directly to the economic meltdown of 2008 and our current crisis.)
·         In early 2007, way before he was a presidential frontrunner, candidate Obama was raising more money from Wall Street interests than all other candidates, including New York presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.
·         In June 2008, as soon as Hillary ended her campaign, Obama went on CNBC, shunned the “populist” label and announced: “Look: I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market.” He packed his economic team with Wall Street friends — choosing one of Bill Clinton’s Wall Street deregulators, Larry Summers, as his top economic advisor.
·         A year into his presidency, in a bizarre but revealing interview with Business Week, Obama was asked about huge bonuses just received by two CEOs of Wall Street firms bailed out by taxpayers. He responded that he didn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus to J.P. Mogan’s CEO or the $9 million to Goldman Sachs’ CEO: “I know both those guys, they are very savvy businessmen,” said Obama. “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.”
After any review of Obama’s corporatist ties and positions, the kneejerk response is: “Yes, but Obama was a community organizer!”
He WAS a community organizer. . .decades before he became president. Back when Nelson Mandela was in prison and the U.S. government declared him the leader of a “terrorist organization” while our government funded and armed Bin Laden and his allies to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.  That’s a long time ago.
It’s worth remembering that decades before Reagan became president, the great communicator was a leftwing Democrat and advocate for the working class and big federal social programs.
The sad truth, as shown by Glenn Greenwald, is that Obama had arrived at the White House looking to make cuts in benefits to the elderly. Two weeks before his inauguration, Obama echoed conservative scares about Social Security and Medicare by talking of “red ink as far as the eye can see.” He opened his doors to Social Security/Medicare cutters — first trying to get Republican Senator Judd Gregg (“a leading voice for reining in entitlement spending,” wrote Politico) into his cabinet, and later appointing entitlement-foe Alan Simpson to co-chair his “Deficit Commission.” Obama’s top economic advisor, Larry Summers, came to the White House publicly telling Time magazine of needed Social Security cuts.
 At this late date, informed activists and voters who care about economic justice realize that President Obama is NOT “on our side.”
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont — widely seen as “America’s Senator” — is so disgusted by recent White House actions that he called Friday for a challenge to Obama in Democratic primaries: “I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition.”
Although Sanders has said clearly that he’s running for reelection to the senate in 2012 – not for president — his comment led instantly to a Draft Sanders for President website.
Imagine if a credible candidate immediately threatened a primary challenge unless Obama rejects any deal cutting the safety net while maintaining tax breaks for the rich. Team Obama knows that a serious primary challenger would cost the Obama campaign millions of dollars. And it may well be a powerful movement-building opportunity for activists tired of feeling hopeless with Obama.
It’s time for progressives to talk seriously about a challenge to Obama’s corporatism. Polls show most Americans support economic justice issues, and that goes double for Democratic primary voters.
If not Bernie, who? If not now, when?
Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media – and a cofounder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org.