Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation




I’d rather be doing a lot of things than this. I could be wrapping up my thoughts on Sidmouth, and the Folk Tradition. I could be in Greenwich, or at LonCon, or spinning, or practicing pennywhistle, or pretty much anything but writing about Ferguson. I wish my thoughts were conflicted. I wish that because it would mean there was some level of question about what’s going on.

What’s going on is the police are over-reacting to a reasonable response on the part of the community. That’s the takeaway. There is a lot more: there always is, but that’s the nub of it. It’s tied into the way the US looks at Race, the way the US looks at cops, the way the US looks at protest, but the nub is the cops over-reacted to a reasonable response.

And, even if the (less than plausible) story the police tell (that a smart kid decided to reach into a car to try and get a cop’s gun) is true, the response is reasonable.

Because cops kill people, esp. black people with impunity. In 2011 cops shot almost more than 1,100 people in the US. 607 of them died. In 95 percent of those shootings, it was determined the cops were “justified”. Out of 1,146 shootings, 1,088 were deemed to be, “good shoots”.

The remaining 58… just sort of disappeared. It’s almost impossible to prosecute cops for misconduct. From about 8,000 credible reports of police misconduct (against about 11,000 officers, in a 21 month period) there were only 3, 200 prosecutions, and 2/3rds of them were acquitted. For run of the mill criminal cases the conviction rate (at trial) is about 70 percent.

Even when they are convicted, they tend to be charged with lesser crimes, and get lighter sentences (Look at how Oscar Grant was shot and what happened to the cop convicted of killing him). So cops get away with murder. That, sad to say, is the general background of life in the US. It’s worse if one isn’t white. In the past couple of weeks I know of at least four such shootings of black men. Last month a pizza guy was shot by a pair of plainclothes cops. What is the police response? “At this time it just appears to be unfortunate for both the officers and this person,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross”.

Yeah… “unfortunate”. I used to deliver pizza, I worried about getting robbed (we had a couple of stick-ups while I was there: pies were ordered, the driver gets out of the car and there is a gun in his ribs. They know where you are going. It’s an easy ambush. So this guy has a couple of people, not in uniform, block his car, with guns out. He tries to get away, and they shoot him, in the head. That, the cops say, is, “unfortunate for both the officers and this person.” I’d say it was a lot more than unfortunate for him.

To make it worse, the cops are being over-equipped. I was a soldier. I was in an invading army. The cops are often more heavily armed than I was. Yeah, I had access to a lot more in the way of support. We had some belt-fed light machine guns, a .50 Cal, and a Mark 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher, as well as being able to call for Artillery, Cavalry, helicopter gunships, and “fast movers” from the Air Force, but on my person I had 7 magazines, for a total of 270 rds of ammunition.

Some of the cops in the pictures in the #Ferguson photostream they seem to have at least that many mags, as well as a second weapon. Think about that; every one of those cops seems to have at least 270 rounds of ammunition. If you have only the twelve cops in this photo that’s 3,240 rds of ammunition. How many people do they think they will need to shoot?

That’s not a rhetorical question. We had that much firepower because we expected people to be using the same sort of equipment to try to kill us. We didn’t have the level of body armor cops routinely wear. So they are better protected, and as powerfully armed. Why?

Lots of numbnuts are focusing on the violent aspects of the citizens. Yeah, I think burning a gas station, and smashing up stores is a bad thing. I also know that this isn’t anything close to a riot. I’ve lived through riots (I lived in LA in 1992, and I worked in Hollywood. I’ve seen honest to goodness riots, this ain’t that).
Even if it were, that’s not how to reduce the tension. Say what you like about the failings of the LAPD (and they are legion) they have a decent handle on how to deal with crowd control (they don’t always adhere to it, e.g. The MacArthur Park incident). As a member of the National Guard we got riot training, and my unit got it from them (I had a couple of commanders who were in the LAPD, and we got some benefit from that).
First rule: cops on crowd control duty don’t carry firearms. They don’t carry shields. They do have helmets with masks, and they carry batons. There are armed cops in the area, but they aren’t at liberty. They can only shoot at designated targets, and only on command.

As decades of study has shown, adding distance between the police and the public makes things worse, FBI study on crowd management

Modern research supports a philosophy of public order policing from the 1970s referred to as The Madison Method of Handling People in Crowds and Demonstrations.7 This approach begins with defining the mission and safeguarding the fundamental rights of people to gather and speak out legally. The philosophy should reflect the agency’s core values in viewing citizens as customers. This focus is not situational; it cannot be turned on and off depending on the crisis.

Law enforcement agencies facilitate and protect the public’s right to free speech and assembly. When officers realize they are at a protest to ensure these rights, they direct their responses accordingly, from planning to implement the plan. Officers must have a well-defined mission that encourages the peaceful gathering of people and uses planning, open communication, negotiation, and leadership to accomplish this goal.

That ain’t happening in Ferguson.

What is happening is that people are upset. They have a lot of reasons to be upset:

Some stats on Ferguson

St. Louis Cty Police Lieutenant fired for telling cops to target blacks

Massively disproportionate police stops/searches/arrests

The amazing thing isn’t that they are protesting it’s that they aren’t being violent about it. Also to be considered is the level of response. I recall earlier in the year, a long (tense) standoff with a dude who was stealing from the public purse. A lot of his supporters showed up to protest the, “unfair treatment he got.

They were pointing loaded weapons at cops. They weren’t vilified in the press. Nope. A lot of folks on the Right side of the spectrum were (and still are) lauding them as heroes, standing up to tyranny. Why? Because a rancher didn’t want to pay grazing fees.

Where are they now? A group of people want to protest the killing of a kid. For that they are being brutalised. Their right to peaceably assemble is being denied. The right of the press to be free in its exercise is being denied. Their right to fair and equal treatment under the law has been systematically violated. They are being subjected to actual tyranny. Sadly what we hear from the Cliven Bundy supporters isn’t crickets… but cheerleading for the cops who call the people of Ferguson animals.

This is about justice. Its seed crystals are the lack of justice they have been suffering for years. This country was founded on the principle that this sort of abuse of state power is so fundamentally unjust that it merited revolution to remove.

The people of Ferguson haven’t done that (though perhaps they recall what happened in Tulsa when blacks chose to defend themselves against predatory whites). They did what we pretend is the way of things. They protested injustice. The assembled to petition for redress of grievance.

And the police ran riot.


What’s wrong with the Zimmerman Verdict

The Zimmerman Verdict is bullshit.

Why?  Because there is no way I can see, given the law of self-defense in Fla., that he was able to invoke the privilege conferred with the Stand Your Ground law. Why?  Because he initiated the confrontation.  He provoked it. That defeats the privilege.  It really is that simple.

From the model Jury Instructions in Florida, on the use of deadly force:

                The use of deadly force is justifiable only if the defendant reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to [himself] [herself] while resisting:

1.            another’s attempt to murder [him] [her], or

2.            any attempt to commit (applicable felony) upon [him] [her], or

3.            any attempt to commit (applicable felony) upon or in any dwelling, residence, or vehicle occupied by [him] [her].

Zimmerman can’t claim those.  Martin wasn’t committing any crime.  He was walking.  Zimmerman called the police, to get advice.  He refused to follow it.  He said, “”Fucking punks. These assholes. They always get away.”  That shows a predisposition to see Martin as some sort of malefactor.

But Zimmerman had gotten training.  He knows what the legal justifications are for initiating deadly force.  He willingly entered a situation which could have led to violence, i.e. he initiated the chain of events.

Play it out.  You are walking to the place you are staying.  It’s your father’s place.  It’s dark, it’s raining.  Some dude you don’t know shows up, and confronts you.  He’s hostile (remember, “These punks, they always get away”).    What do you do?  You probably don’t say, “Oh dude… I’m sorry, what can I do to help?”.  Why?  Because some dude just came out of a car, followed you and got angry.

That, is a case where one is justified in defending oneself.  We don’t know what happened.  All we know is the result.  Zimmerman shot Martin.  Zimmerman was playing cop.  He was worried about Trayvon Martin, “getting away”.

Zimmerman is the only witness.  He’s the only one who could tell the tale; and he has a reason to lie. He’s committed homicide.  He has every reason to paint it as justified.*

The rest of us (those who don’t want to be able to just go out and shoot people) have every reason to think it isn’t.  He was playing Lone Ranger.  He was lying in wait and going after people he didn’t like the look of.  He was engaged in racist profiling.  Florida just made that a lot more legal.

If you aren’t black, of course. 

Trayvon Martin had every legal right to be there.  Zimmerman had no actual right to challenge his presence.  That voids the base claim of self-defense.  So Zimmerman’s claim has to be that Martin’s reaction was so intense that he had no choice but to use deadly force to prevent himself being killed.

A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.

When is deadly force not justified?

Aggressor.  § 776.041, Fla. Stat.

                However, the use of deadly force is not justifiable if you find:

                2.            (Defendant) initially provoked the use of force against [himself] [herself], unless:

a.            The force asserted toward the defendant was so great that [he] [she] reasonably believed that [he] [she] was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and had exhausted every reasonable means to escape the danger, other than using deadly force on (assailant).

b.            In good faith, the defendant withdrew from physical contact with (assailant) and clearly indicated to (assailant) that [he] [she] wanted to withdraw and stop the use of deadly force, but (assailant) continued or resumed the use of force.

So… Zimmerman’s only out is that Trayvon Martin was so powerful that he was being beaten to within an inch of his life.

Right.  Zimmerman trained in Mixed Martial Arts.  MMA is the core of the US Army’s hand to hand combat.  I’ve done a moderate amount of it.  The first thing you learn to do is “break hold” when someone is on top of you.  The next thing you learn to do is reverse hold.

So, if Martin was able to prevent that, maybe Zimmerman was in so grave a fear; and being beaten so badly that he was unable to respond with the drills he trained in.  At which point he was able to get his hand under his body, behind his waist, extract a pistol, get it to Martin’s center of mass, and shoot him.


The only way he can do all of that is if either he’s not being beaten so badly as all that, or is not in physical contact with Martin.  There is, actually, one other way he can do that… if he has the gun in hand when he approaches Trayvon Martin.  In which case… he can’t claim he was acting in self defense.

So this was bullshit.  Zimmerman got away with murder.



*He didn’t assert the right to “Stand Your Ground”, so the perversions of self-defense it creates didn’t come into legal play.