The Long, Robotic Arm of the Law

Courtesy NPR - See this excellet story here:
Courtesy NPR – See this excellent piece on weapons and blame here

ON Friday evening, Dallas police cornered and executed a man.

The man had, we are told, admitted to shooting police. The man, we are also told, said he was angry at the recent deaths of black men at the hands of the police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and wanted to kill white people and especially white police officers.

After hours of negotiations failed, we are told, the police sent in a remote control robot carrying an explosive device, and detonated it, killing the man.

Job done, I have heard people say. One less “terrorist.” He would have gotten the death penalty anyway. We just saved some money and time.

And what about due process? What about justice?

Our society expects its good citizens to live by certain rules, such as not killing people. When people break those rules, the police are the law enforcers trusted to apprehend them and bring them to a place where they can then face the process of justice. In Texas, the judicial system reserves the right to sentence someone to death, and to order the execution.

So what’s the deal? The man was guilty. He would have been sentenced to death. He shot cops so the cops killed him.

I don’t know if that sits easily with you, but it certainly doesn’t with me. Just as we expect the rules to apply to individuals, we must also expect the rules to apply to the institutions we put in place to uphold them.

If someone shoots at a cop and the resulting exchange of fire he is killed, then yes, I can accept it if there was no choice. But we are told that negotiations had failed, and that’s when the robot carrying an explosive device was sent in. They had no choice.

Maybe. But I’d like to know a bit more before we let this slide by.

It takes time to arm and dispatch a robot. This isn’t a reactive decision. This is an action requiring calculation and planning. If we can send in a lethal explosive, we can send in a non-lethal device that would temporarily disable him and allow the cops a closer look at the situation.

We have already been told the man did not kill himself. The robot-delivered explosive device killed him.

But what if he was loaded up with a suicide jacket and it was impossible to disarm him without risking lives?

Then why not tell us this? Because without this information it a subversion of due process to allow the cops to assume the role of judge, jury, and robotic executioner. We have been told some of what allegedly happened, and I am more than willing to believe the events as the police have described them, but it is not enough.

If what we are told is true, there are still several problems with this.

Firstly, we know that the police are not exactly as trustworthy as we would like. We’ve seen that this week, and on so many occasions before, captured on video. That’s not to say all cops are not to be trusted. Clearly this is not true and there are many, many good ones out there who are tarnished by the actions of the bad ones. We’ve seen it in the USA. We’ve seen it in the UK. We know from Hillsborough that the police are capable and willing to conduct a massive cover-up if the truth is not going to benefit them.

Secondly, this execution can never be justified as decision borne of efficiency. To be fair, the police have not said this, but I have seen it argued with the maelstrom of hyper-emotive social media responses to these terrible events. It must be emphasized, however, that justice deserves to cost money. I am not talking about the cost of lawyers. I am talking about the cost of ensuring that justice is fair, impartial, speedy, compassionate and humane, to both the victims of crime, and the criminals. We expect lawyers and judges to be well-educated, sober-minded people, knowledgeable of the law and skilled in its application. We don’t expect lawyers and judges to be police officers, so why we should we allow the police to deliver justice? Justice is much too precious for that. Or it should be.

Justice is the process by which we all agree to set aside personal grievances and allow a process of analytical impartiality to decide guilt and assess punishment. By shortcutting the process of justice we subvert the foundations of a just society, and it is this foundation that stops us from descending into the spiral of perpetual blood feuds; from becoming the Hatfields and McCoys.

But then, when we have a for-profit prison system, and the highest per-capita prison population in the world, perhaps we don’t have a just society after all. The USA has 4.4% of the world population, and yet we have 22% of the world prison population. Is this because US citizens are more criminally minded than anyone else in the world? Or maybe we’re more efficient at capturing criminals and putting them in jail? Or, and I have no data to support this, perhaps it is the fact we have a criminal justice system that allows profit as a motive for building prisons that distorts our application of the law.

Finally, I cannot end this without once again remarking on the weapons question that the US Congress refuses to even contemplate. When we militarize society, or allow it to militarize itself, in return we must militarize our law enforcement officers.

And because there is a whole cost/income issue, and we don’t like paying taxes, it is only ourselves that we hurt when we militarize society. And heaven forbid that we add even more to the cost, like training police officers in conflict resolution and mediation. Police forces, on average, spend 110 hours on firearms training, and 8 hours on conflict resolution. That’s a thirteen-fold disparity. Remember that maxim about Maslow’s hammer?

When the only tool you have is a gun, every problem resembles a shoot-out.

Finally, let’s make this clear: Cops die at a much higher rate in states with looser gun laws. It is a clear and direct correlation. The reports are freely available. Here’s one from Harvard. And here’s a story from the Washington Post that examines data from the FBI and CDC. Let’s also be clear that the states with the loosest weapons laws have the highest gun-deaths. It’s not rocket science, but it seems beyond our politicians’ ability to hear the argument. Maybe they have stuffed their ears with NRA dollars. I don’t know.

But when you hear a politician say Blue Lives Matter (and they do, but let’s look at that whole issue separately), the next question must be: What are you going to do about it?

So, what are you going to do about it?



Campus Carry at UT-Austin

Fifty years to the day that Charles Whitman climbed the UT tower and carried out what was, until last month, the worst mass shooting in modern US history, the University of Texas at Austin will implement a Campus Carry policy that allows students 21 and older to carry concealed weapons on campus, in accordance with Texas law.
I can’t thank Professors Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore, and Mia Carter enough for standing up to this. I will also add that as a student I share their concerns. I would feel intimidated by a student carrying a weapon in the classroom and feel it would inhibit free and open discussion of sensitive subjects, thereby limiting the education I have paid for and have come to expect.
Furthermore, while I may be able to hold my tongue if I sense danger, I will be unable to prevent another student from saying something that may upset the carrying student.
Students are under pressure. Many are not experienced in handling the pressures presented by exams and grades, academic and career expectations, the pressures of being a young adult and the attendant challenges of living away from home, financial stresses, social and romantic entanglements, and more. This is often the most volatile and emotional stage of a person’s life. And the law now states that we can allow them to carry concealed weapons to class.
This is a rights issue and I believe the State of Texas has violated my rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution and under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that by implementing Campus Carry the University of Texas at Austin has fallen short in at least two of its core principles.
I would like to know how many students feel the same way. Are there enough students to recruit a legal team to sue to uphold our rights also? IS there a legal team willing to launch a challenge on our behalf? Would refusing to sit in a class with a student carrying a weapon put me in breach of my academic contract, or would it force UT and the State of Texas to rethink?
I don’t know the answers. I only know this is a major concern for me.

The War at Home

30 people were shot and murdered today. There were 30 more shot and murdered yesterday. And 30 the day before. The death tally for gun murders this week is 210. By the end of the year, 11,000 Americans will be shot and murdered… by Americans. 200 unarmed Americans will be shot and murdered by the police in 2015. It was the same in 2014, and it will be the same in 2016.
Yes, let’s mourn the victims of the recent atrocities in Paris, and Syria, and Beirut, and Baghdad, and Istanbul, and Kenya. Let’s add flags to our Facebook profiles. Lets unite in prayer, or silent contemplation, and shake our heads at the inhumanity of extremism. It’s right that we should mourn such a terrible loss.
Then, when the next news cycle starts, let us remember that we can’t even have a debate on gun control in America. Let’s remember that 45,000 people a year die in America because of a lack of affordable healthcare. Let’s defund planned parenthood because someone’s God said so. Let’s stop welfare because we must learn to help ourselves. Let’s raise retirement ages so we can work ourselves into the grave. Let’s refuse workers a living wage but let them spend $1 in every 5 on health insurance. Let’s allow half a million insured Americans a year to go bankrupt due to illness. Let’s regress tax laws along the lines of biblical tithing and make the wealthy even wealthier. Let’s price everyone but the wealthy out of education.

And then, let’s build a wall around us to keep others out of this paradise we’ve made.

Finally, when we’re done with mourning the dead, and our thoughts turn to revenge; when we look for someone to blame, mete punishment out to, and extract justice from; when we go to war to kill those extremists that would kill us, let’s remember who is killing us.

We are.


Gun ownership is a fetish; it is beyond rational thought; beyond logic. Weapons companies have got some of the most powerful lobbyists in the country in their pocket, including the commanders of the armed forces who manage budgets, the NRA, and almost every freedom-loving, constitutionalist in the middle and south of the country. Wanna talk gun control? Second Amendment, motherfucker. It’s sanctified like it was handed down from god or Ronald Reagan and enshrined in their pantheon, unassailable and perfect. What these fetishists fail to acknowledge is that this Constitution that they love so much has 27 Amendments and that, after the first 10 (the Bill of Rights), there were 17 more times in our history that America decided the Constitution was wrong. Three of them for the abolition of slavery and establishment of citizenship rights, one that gave women the right to vote, one to lower the voting age to 18, one to set term limits, etc. In other words, the Constitution is known to have been wrong or inadequate and has been corrected many times, and yet people wave it around, written in a little pocket book, and cry foul anytime the subject of limiting gun ownership comes up.

There are three ways to stop gun crime in this country, or at least bring it to a level more in line with almost every other developed country, and none of them will work.

The first way is to ban gun ownership, ban the sale and manufacture of personal weapons, and put personal weapons manufacturers out of business. But, even if you ever got those laws written and implemented, as of 2014 there were an estimated 310 million handguns, shotguns and rifles in private ownership in America. People will not give them up in a hurry, if ever at all. If it is to work, it must be a generational thing. Act now to ban them and it will take at least 50 years before you see any major impact on ownership, private sales, better background checks, etc. But is this the answer? People will still want their guns. Criminals will want guns, especially when no one else has them. Hunters want guns. People who live in the country who need to protect themselves from natural threats like bears and snakes and unionized wasps need them. Even if we eliminate gun ownership rights, people will still have guns and will still use them.

The second way is to have an event so terrifying, so horrific and tragic and scary, that there will be a sea change in American’s feelings about gun ownership rights. A handful of kids shot dead by a psycho in a playground won’t do it. A congresswoman shot in the head at an election event won’t do it. Reporters gunned down on television won’t do it. We’ve seen that already and we’ve sighed and shrugged and collectively said, “Well, what can you do, eh?” No, if Americans are ever going to be shocked into accepting any form of gun control Draconian enough to force their elimination, force the hunters to take up catapults and pea-shooters, force the “sportsman” into shooting with a camera instead, then the deciding event will have to be so catastrophic, so unfathomably shocking, that it beggars belief and creates an unstoppable backlash. We would have to have a tsunami of thousands of deaths, children, grandmothers, mothers, politicians, priests, civic leaders, sports teams, actors, music stars, in a compressed amount of time. It would take a year or two of indiscriminate, mass murder by a phalanx of un-related shooters or a well-armed militia, an American ISIS-like force, to ever provoke that level of sustaining, voluntary reform.

Or, maybe guns are not the problem. Maybe the problem is that we have a society whereby people feel like they need, want or deserve the right to own and use a gun.

Maybe we could forget about the guns for now and just be kind to each other. We could introduce social safety nets. We could promote unity by not letting mentally ill people die of starvation in American jail cells. We could create a society where you don’t lose everything you ever worked for because you got sick, where you couldn’t be fired at the end of the day without recourse. Where, if you work for a week, you earn at least enough to live for a week. Where unemployment benefit didn’t run out after 6 months and dump you and your family on the streets. We could create a society that took care of its ill, its elderly, its poor, its needy. We could decide that America is a place where people can learn and grow without running up a lifetime of debt. Where no one sleeps without a roof over his head unless he chooses to do so. We could raise the level of debate so that Trump and Clinton and Palin and Bush and any other double-speaking, problem avoiding, question swerving politician would never get out of the gate on an election campaign. Where all elections are centrally funded so that special interests are not picking the prettiest, most pliable candidate. Where Google and Halliburton and Boeing and Lockheed Martin have less rights than you, your neighbor, and the people that live in your street. We could prosecute the bad cops and elevate the good ones. We could create a society where death by cop isn’t preferable to life by any other means. We could create a society that doesn’t cause mental illness, that doesn’t cause despair, doesn’t generate anger, that doesn’t make us lose hope. And then, maybe, just maybe, the guns won’t matter. We’ll have a society where there are so many answers before people run out of options. But we can’t do that either, because we can’t afford it. We shouldn’t pay for it. We don’t need it. That is Socialism. Communism. It will cost too much money. It will remove the biblical freedom to fail. It will quench the fire under our asses that keeps us jumping higher. Keeps us excelling. We need competition. We need Capitalism. Coercion. Constitutionalism. It’s un-doable. Unthinkable. Un-American.