Friday, November 30, 2012

Discrimination--or not?

I had a recent experience, the details of which I won’t discuss here, that forced me to dwell upon a few issues in regard to police behavior. One is whether or not an individual has any right to expect a change of police behavior that may be deemed “inappropriate.” I’ve described many experiences I have had with police in which if any criminal behavior was in the offing, it was solely in the imagination of the officer. Some officers just feel they need to strike an “intimidating” pose on a person of a demographic that is assumed to have “criminal tendencies” just to frighten them enough to dissuade them from such ideas. Of course, if you are a law-abiding citizen, it might be “surprising” to discover that some people might find this behavior offensive and perhaps even based on a “discriminatory” and stereotypical belief system or “profile”—whether by hair color, clothing or (the horror) color of skin; a traffic court judge opined this very thing after I gave him my description of an encounter with Highway Patrol deputy concerning a ticket I was disputing.

The question then is whether we should still view this as “acceptable” behavior simply because we give certain license to police. This goes to the very heart of the recent Justice Department investigation of the Seattle Police Department and its record of race-based policing and use-of-force policies. Police want us to accept this behavior, to look at things from their “perspective”; of course, it is not easy for the lay person to understand the “perspective” of Ian Birk, the officer who shot John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver whose “crime” was mining his business. If there is too much “accountability,” then police officers will feel “constrained” and may not “properly” conduct their duties.  So we must accept police behavior that may be deemed discriminatory or abusive, because they are “just doing their job.” We are to accept the premise that they are they capable of self-policing; unfortunately, in regard to the Justice Department findings, this has done little or nothing to stop the “bad apples” from going completely rotten—and thus condemning the whole basket. You would think that police departments would understand this, rather than circling the wagons.

The second issue, more “tricky” than the first is whether race or “ethnic”-based policing is a “police” problem (from “training”), a societal problem, or simply an “individual” problem. While there is certainly an “expectation” from certain segments of the population that police should “crack down” harder—or at least pay more attention to—other segments of the population, there is a real question of whether an individual officer are also a reflection of his or her particular “segment”—say, race. Are some white police officers more “aggressive” in their behavior toward minorities—perhaps reflective of prior social and racial attitudes? Are we then to believe that black police officers, perhaps because they come from a historically oppressed group in this country, are more keenly aware of discrimination and conduct their police business with that in mind—especially when “handling” minorities? One would think, of course, that they would “interpret” as “normal” behavior something that a white police officer would consider “suspicious.” On the other hand, they might believe that they “know” a minority individual’s “delinquent tendencies” better, and the “culture” that inspires it, and to achieve a level of “respect” they must present a more bullying or intimidating posture that might in fact pose a conflict with the actual character and background of a “suspect.”

If a police officer of any race or “ethnicity” conducts his or her duties in differing degrees of “diligence”—take, for example, drug use enforcement—in respect to race or “ethnicity” of different from themselves, does this constitute a discriminatory attitude? I was actually confronted with this question in a manner intended to make me feel that it was “inappropriate” or “invalid,” that I should take into account the background of the individual. But this officer was mistaken in his assumed knowledge my “background.” And this has been true in the “civilian” world as well, of course. I grew-up in and attended mostly white neighborhoods and schools, and was immersed in the “culture.” But for all the talk by racists like Pat Buchanan who claim “we” don’t want to “assimilate,” does it really matter what “we” do? Is skin color the only real “culture?” I recall an incident in college when I was listening to some of my favorite Sixties and Seventies hits I recorded on a cassette tape (yeah, I know). A white person who allegedly "knew" me sneered and said  “That isn’t your music.” What was he trying to say here? That I am a different species of human? 

And how often have we heard that the police say that they see themselves as an “us” versus “them” proposition? Perhaps it is best that we should regard police—regardless of race or ethnicity of a particular individual—as only one “color”—that of their uniforms. Whatever their individual differences may be, they all read out of the same instruction manual. A discussion of whether or not the actions of at least some officers come from an individual impulse is a pointless exercise if they use the same criteria to judge people they may or may not have a clue about. Thus people might find the “system” as discriminatory, regardless of who is carrying out the “instruction.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where is the “outrage” now?

On November 23, Michael Dunn—unmistakably a Caucasian male—shot and killed Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old black male and high school student at a Jacksonville, Florida convenience store. Apparently as Dunn was waiting in his car for his girlfriend to buy a bottle of spirits, nearby was an SUV where four occupants were playing music “loud.” Now if you are in a library or living in an apartment building with thin walls this may be a legitimate issue. But if you are only in the area for a few minutes, it is nothing to become too upset about. However, it seems that Mr. Dunn—who was in town attending his son’s wedding—was already well-imbibed and his sense of indignation enhanced to the point where his violent fantasies became unfortunate reality.  

Dunn—an avowed gun “enthusiast”—claims that an “argument” ensued over the loudness of the music, and in response the passengers of the SUV turned-up the noise even louder. Now the story gets a little murky; the teens in the SUV admit to everything up to this point, but were driving away when Dunn suddenly began opening firing on them, about eight or nine shots being fired. Davis was hit by two bullets and died soon afterward. The victims claim that they were unarmed. Dunn, on the other hand, claims that he only emptied his weapon when he saw a shotgun in the SUV.  No weapon was found that substantiated this claim, but the explanation for this was that the teens had discarded the weapon after they drove away. As for Dunn, when his girlfriend came back to the car, he admitted that he had just fired his gun, and rather than reporting what had occurred to police, they decided to drive back to their home in a different county.

According to a story in the Florida Times-Union, Dunn’s lawyer, Robin Lemonidis, claimed that Dunn “absolutely” did observe “someone” with a shotgun in the SUV. She stated at the hearing where Dunn was charged with second-degree murder that he “acted appropriately” in self-defense. Lemonidis went on to say that this case was “totally different” than the Trayvon Martin case, and she hoped that there wouldn’t be a “media circus” as that which surrounded that case. Well, she is right about that, but not for the reasons she claimed. I’m not going to rehash the Martin case; I’ve done that ad nauseam; suffice it to say that the facts seem to indicate that George Zimmerman only fired his weapon while he was still being physically beaten on by Martin (“but I no u wupped his ass tho” one of Martin’s friends had written on his Facebook page after the shooting; he must have known Martin better than the media pretended to).  I suppose the Martin partisans can claim that you can hardly use the “stand your ground” defense when you are flat on your back getting pummeled by a “child.”

I am not condoning what Zimmerman did; what I am saying is that in the Martin case, there was confluence of circumstances in which both Martin and Zimmerman played a part in the final denouement. In the Davis shooting, there seems to be no rational explanation for what occurred. In that case, Dunn acted like a true vigilante. No one acts in such an impulsive manner unless they are predisposed to violence—“preferably” toward those of a disliked demographic. Jacksonville homicide detective Rob Schoonover was quoted as saying “Our victim was shot a couple of times…They were listening to the music. It was loud; they admitted that. But I mean that is not a reason for someone to open fire on them.” City Attorney Gene Nichols dismissed the claim by Dunn’s lawyer that any “responsible” person would have acted the same way, stating that “Mr. Dunn is going to have to answer the question, 'Why did you not call the sheriff's office? If you are reasonably protecting yourself, why did you leave the scene, get in the car, and the next day, flee the jurisdiction of Duval County?’” He also asserted that “There's no indication that Jordan or anyone else in that car had a gun, there's no indication that they were any threat to Mr. Dunn.”

Now, the question I have is “Where is Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson? Where is CNN’s Anderson Cooper? How about Laurence O’Donnell over at MSNBC? Or all those lefties on the local AM 1090 station who were demonizing Zimmerman every day for months?” I suppose that one reason is that Florida learned its lesson and quickly charged Dunn. But that doesn’t explain why the media was silent on the Daniel Adkins shooting, in which a developmentally-disabled Hispanic man walking his dog was shot to death by a black male outside of Phoenix in an alleged “stand your ground” case. It was only four months later—and two weeks after the shooter was arrested after participating in a drive-by shooting—that murder charges were filed in the case. 

The answer in the Dunn case seems to be another dynamic in play with a similar variable. Zimmerman was called “white,” but he was appeared “obviously” Latino; after years of demonizing immigrants—both legal and illegal—for many of the problems in the country, it is a short step toward having an instinctive aversion to anyone with brown skin, and belief in the negative stereotypes that have been habitually applied to them. But for “real” white people like Dunn, there is the desire to give a whole race the “benefit of the doubt.” Unlike, say, Latinos (or blacks, for that matter), white people are not all “like this.” Of course that is true; I’ve actually met white people who are decent human beings. But all too often we do not see this same “logic” applied to other groups. And that is the problem with this case relative to the Martin and Adkins cases.


Also in the news is Jose Padilla, the “convicted” dirty bomber, except that he wasn’t actually convicted of that crime, because it never existed. His current sentence has been ruled “too lenient,” and he is to appear in court for a new sentencing hearing. I’ve discussed this case before in detail, and it is one of the great travesties of justice  perpetrated in recent memory in this country—and it only promises to get worse if the sentence is considerably extended.

Now, Padilla was not a “good man” caught-up with bad people; he was a gang member with a criminal record. During one stint in prison he converted to Islam and gave himself a new Arabic name, although the government insisted on referring to him by his given name. Padilla travelled to several countries in the Middle East, and he was arrested on the charge that he attended al Qaeda training camps and was plotting to deploy a “radioactive” bomb in the U.S.. But after nearly four years in isolated confinement in which he was subjected to various torture techniques (all illegal on U.S. soil)—and staving-off a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the legality of holding a U.S. citizen indefinitely without charge—the Bush administration finally concocted the ludicrous charge that Padilla was “supporting terrorism in Kosovo, Bosnia and Chechnya.” Note that there was nothing about staging attacks on U.S. soil or harming U.S. citizens.

Non-prejudicial observers thought the Padilla was being charged with nothing more than a “thought crime.” However some believe his eventual conviction was due more to his prior criminal history and his sullen, nonresponsive demeanor than any actual evidence that he was a “terrorist.” One commentator likened Padilla to a “piece of furniture,” no doubt due to his years enduring isolation and torture. He was sentenced to a 17-year prison term, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court intervened, claiming—by a 2-1 vote—not that the case against Padilla was absurd, but that his sentence was “too lenient.” The judges in favor of extending his sentence pointed not to the evidence in the case (merely that he was convicted), but to his prior criminal history, and that he was a potential “danger.” They also faulted the trial judge for “remarking that the defendants’ crimes did not personally harm anyone nor target the United States”—which was true, and merely points to outrageousness of the Bush administration’s actions throughout this case.

But the dissenting judge, while not questioning the conviction itself, noted several blatant miscarriages of justice in Padilla’s trial:

The old adage that "hard facts make bad law" is clearly evident here. First Agent Kavanaugh's opinion testimony should have been excluded because he was never qualified as an expert and did not have the requisite first-hand knowledge to offer his lay opinion. His lay opinion testimony was merely the government's closing argument in disguise. Second, the incriminating statements Padilla made prior to being read his Miranda rights should have been suppressed, because, under the undisputed facts in this record, it is beyond peradventure that Padilla was in custody at the time he made them. Finally, the sentence imposed on Padilla should not be disturbed by this Court, because doing so simply substitutes this Court's sentencing judgment for that of the trial judge, in whom that authority inheres.

More recently, Padilla was denied the reinstatement of his and the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld (someone who should be in jail) and others for illegal detention and torture. But like George Zimmerman, Padilla is a man who elicits a visceral response: dark, swarthy, “ethnic”—criminal and “dangerous.” Not, that is to say, quite “human.” His “kind” needs  to be “put away.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why I hate Bellevue

I have to admit I’ve never liked Bellevue, the so-called city on the other side of Lake Washington. It is not just that it is Republican territory, but it acts that way too. I once worked for a few days at the Bellevue Mall on a temp assignment along with other “ethnic” and minority types, and I couldn’t help but notice that the bus driver taking us back across the lake was keenly aware of his “responsibilities.” We were not to linger one minute longer than absolutely necessary. Bellevue police are always on the lookout for “others” who may be in neighborhoods where the white gentry might think is “suspicious.” I was once pulled over for not turning on my turn signal “fast enough”; the real reason was because the cop was on a fishing expedition, and naturally any "ethnic" male must have an outstanding warrant for his arrest. If not, then such intimidation should make him think twice about returning.

There are admittedly a few minorities of the under-represented kind who actually live in Bellevue, but they are mainly restricted to the Crossroads neighborhood. I remember when Bellevue police had a "meet and greet" fair at the Crossroads shopping center; they were showing off their military-style urban warfare vehicles and weaponry. Geez, I wonder why. Years ago I recall that Metro had canvassed the area for opinions about installing “multicultural” artwork at some of the bus stops; naturally the Republican-dominated gentry was vehemently opposed.

But what really irritates me about Bellevue is that it is really just a residential area for well-off people without any sense of how a city is supposed to function. I once had an appointment someplace in south Bellevue. I got off a bus west of the railway line that cuts across the north-south axis of the city; I didn’t think that I would have a problem finding a crossing road south of 8th Street closer to where I was going. I figured it was maybe a 30-minute walk for the appointment which was in another hour.  I started down 116th Ave, and walked and walked, but I looked in vain for a crossing street; the further I walked, the more the railway was further in the distance, and there was nothing between me and it but wilderness. 

By the time I realized that I was in trouble, I knew I was going to be late unless I took drastic action. I cut across a parking lot, climbed over a fence and ascended a steep wood-covered hill until I reached the tracks. I walked some distance hoping that there was a road on the other side; unfortunately the railway went over a bridge, and with crossed fingers I hoped that I wouldn’t have the misfortune of encountering a train. By the time I reached other side of the bridge, there was nothing but more wilderness before me. I had to make another decision: there was road down there somewhere (1st street, which only continued southward), except that I might make it down a little quicker than mortal human flesh could sustain. Fortunately, there were bushes and small trees on the down slope, and I said to myself what the hell and seized all available objects to slow my descent. By the time I reached the bottom I was a sweaty, dirty, scratched-up mess, but I had finally crossed the tracks to the other side. I ended-up “only” 15 minutes late for my appointment, but the man who I had to see did not seem to appreciate how much I endured in the course of this little adventure. This was also the last time I have ever allowed myself to be insulted by Bellevue; I haven’t been there since. 

Since I am predisposed to dislike Bellevue, it goes without saying that a story that appeared on the front page of Saturday’s Seattle Times only increased my loathing. It seems that some members of the Bellevue city council claim that they were lied to when it wasn’t explicitly explained to them that Sound Transit might build a rail-yard in the Bel-Red Industrial Corridor, which I am familiar with (having worked another temp job in that area), and frankly it is so remote from Bellevue proper it might as well be located in Alaska. On the other hand, the city knew that there was a likelihood to build a rail-yard somewhere on the Eastside, because the Seattle SODO yard was simply not big enough; it seems that because the Bellevue city council was not told positively that a yard might be built in or near the city—or chose to ignore the implicit possibility that this would be done—that all of sudden it is claiming “foul.”

But the real issue is that many in Bellevue do not want a light rail link to their city at all, and will clutch at any thin reed to make it not happen. They don’t care if it eases traffic problems to and from the Eastside; the residents are more concerned about whether it will make it easier for non-Caucasian “others” to come and go, such as to the Bellevue Mall—which frankly is the only place worth wasting your time with in Bellevue. However, there are those common sense types who realize the value of another form of rapid transit; in the otherwise unrelievedly partisan anti-light rail Times story, frustrated councilman John Stokes said "I don't see why there would be any advantage to us delaying those things (building the rail link) at this point unless you just don't want the light rail.” 

Frankly, I'm sick of Republican Bellevue and its constant complaints, like a pampered child with a silver spoon planted firmly in mouth. Welcome to the modern world, provincials.  If Bellevue wants to be a city, then it needs to grow-up. It can't have all of the benefits and none of the responsibilities of civilization. The Times own anti-modernity and anti-progress stories no doubt stem from the fact that so many of its editors live in Bellevue and are out-of-touch with the “progressive” city they are supposed to be "speaking for."

Russell Wilson “man-crush” continues to blind local sports commentators to reality

The Seahawks “window of opportunity” of winning with Russell Wilson is much less than with a pure quarterback like Andrew Luck. The Seahawks are a team that coming into this season were a “quarterback away” from being a really good team. The Indianapolis Colts, on the other hand, were considered at best a 3-win team after essentially being blown apart in the off-season. Yet they are 7-4, and Luck is averaging over 290 yards passing per game. His upside as he matures and gains experience is potentially phenomenal. Conversely, we may actually be seeing the “best” of Wilson this year. More so than a pure passer, Wilson is the kind of quarterback who because of his limitations of height, relies more heavily on his running abilities; the upshot of this is that he is going to be run-down more quickly than a pure passer. Local commentators blame the play-calling for Wilson not passing the ball more; all that means is that he’s going to run more often than he does. 

The Seahawks in their current iteration don’t want a pure passer; if they did, the team would have insured that Matt Flynn would have been given every opportunity, and would have started him day one. But the offensive mentality of this team is essentially that of a college team. Pete Carroll was successful as a coach at USC, and seeks to duplicate that success at Seattle using the same system. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is his right-hand man in this scheme; what offense is Bevell most familiar with? The run-dominated offense he played with under Barry Alvarez in Wisconsin; I remember Bevell running—not passing—for the deciding touchdown in the 1994 Rose Bowl against UCLA. Bevell never made it as a quarterback in the NFL, because that system didn’t require an NFL-ready quarterback, but one who could make “plays” with his feet and occasionally pass to at least one NFL-ready receiver. The only time Bevell deviated from that system as an offensive coordinator is when he essentially had no choice; Brett Favre was a Hall of Fame quarterback who happened to have his own ideas about how to play the game. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2009 was the only season that Bevell had a top-five offense in both yards and points scored. 

Bevell no doubt had a significant hand in the Seahawks’ drafting of Wilson; after all, Wilson is also familiar with the Wisconsin offensive system that Bevell is trying to recreate. As I pointed out yesterday, commentators who think that Wilson is the best player on the team are merely easily gulled. His stat line is always front-loaded, like a baseball player who goes 4 for 4 one game and 0 for 8 in two games; a .333 batting average is outstanding (fans around here can tell you that Ichiro’s stats were smoke and mirrors), but what does that really tell you about his effectiveness? Instead, all we hear about around here is Wilson and the “man-crush” mentality; the fact is that the best quarterbacks make the players around them look good--not the other way around. Instead, we are told that it is always someone else’s fault if the team falters. 

Fans need to ask themselves a simple question: Would they prefer a quarterback like Luck (or Flynn, for that matter), or Wilson, and why? The answer would expose the truth to those wearing the rose-colored glasses around here. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Maybe the Seahawks problem is that Russell Wilson isn't the kind of quarterback who can make the players around him "better"

Before I get into the main topic, I want to first say that for me, the “most hated” team in the NFL should not be the New England Patriots, but the New York Giants. This is a team that naps during the regular season, and then has the temerity to upset the tide of history on two occasions after waking itself up after falling over. On this Sunday evening, just as they did in the playoffs last season, the Giants carved-up the Green Bay offensive line and Aaron Rodgers, but that just wasn’t enough. Up 38-10, Eli Manning passed on fourth-and-short twice in the final 5 minutes of the game. This team needs to be taught a lesson in humility in a major way. 

Anyway, after the Miami Dolphins defeated the favored Seattle Seahawks 24-21 this weekend, I listened to the post-game show on the radio with Dori Monson and company. For some reason, every time I listen to these homers I’m reminded of the DeFilipo brothers on the SCTV series 5 episode “Melonvote”—a couple of district attorneys who had zero convictions in two years running for reelection (You can do better, but I’m running” says their opponent); these guys, who took “courtroom argument” to psychotic extremes, claimed that their “record” of no convictions actually demonstrates their “success” in office, because there is “no crime” in  Melonville. 

With the Seahawks post-game “analysts,” what is “right” and “wrong” with the team occupies about the same stratosphere of absurdity. As I mentioned following the Seattle-Green Bay game and the controversial “interceptdown,” Monson and company never even intimated that there was a controversy on Golden Tate’s so-called catch, while the outside world was baying for Seahawk blood. Nor did they mention the fact that another Russell Wilson interception in that game was nullified by incidental contact on his ankle. Yet after the Miami game, they were howling like coyotes in heat because a Seahawk interception was nullified after a defender tried to ram Dolphin quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s jaw into his braincase; one the “analysts” whined that Tannehill either should have moved out of the way, or taken it like a man. Whenever the Seahawks benefit from such a circumstance, it’s not even a matter of debate; but if it adversely affects “their” team, the league needs to change the rule.

But even more aggravating is the continuing pampering of Russell Wilson. When he wasn’t playing well early in the season, his “issues” were blamed for a lack of “weapons.” Now, it’s that his teammates are not up to his “level.” You should have heard all the superlatives Wilson’s grovelers laid at his feet after this loss: “Superb,” “outstanding,” “awesome,” “masterful,” “terrific,” “brilliant,” etcetera and so forth. Once more, the team lost because of everyone but Wilson. I mean, there must be point where the other players listen to this constant refrain and think to themselves “We’ve been taking these slings and arrows for this guy all year, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” 

And they shouldn’t. On the surface, Wilson’s 21 for 27, 224 yards and 2 TD passes against the Dolphins was an above average performance. Yet the team only scored 14 points on offense. Sure, the running game was subpar, but if Wilson is so “great”—even as a rookie—then shouldn’t he overcome the occasional hiccup? Isn’t that what good quarterbacks do? You know, like the 480 yards and 6 TD passes Matt Flynn put-up against the Detroit Lions last year, a team with same “awful” secondary that Wilson only managed 236 yards against? Against Miami, the fact is that it was another rookie, Ryan Tannehill, who was the one who played with more poise and precision. 

Some minor details demonstrate how Seattle’s offense cannot function when it depends on its passing game when its ground game grinds to a halt. Seattle had more plays (56-55), but Miami averaged 7.9 yards per play to 5.6. Seattle had more third down plays (14-9), but Miami had more first downs, 23-16. What does this mean? Seattle had one first down per 3.5 plays, compared to Miami’s one per 2.5 plays—meaning the Dolphins were more likely to acquire a first down on first and second down.  And while Wilson was 12-12 for 148 yards on the two touchdown drives, he was 9-15 for 76 yards the rest of the game; he was sacked twice, for a net of 68 yards for an average of 4 yards per pass play.  This inconsistency has been a continuing problem with the Seahawks passing game. 

Our “analysts” never want to give the opposing team any credit, but it doesn’t make sense to blame just the “other” players on the team for this inconsistency. The quarterback still has to put the ball in the right place, and occasionally help a receiver by throwing him “open.” While Wilson always seems to be “on” for two or three series that pad his stats, for most of a game he seems to be merely ordinary or ineffective. No quarterback is always consistent, but with Wilson it’s like a baseball player on a hot streak; .300 batting average—say 15 hits in 50 at-bats—might sound impressive, but if that included a 10 hits in 15 at-bats streak,  that means he hit just .143 in the remaining 35 at-bats. It is a short-term benefit and long-term detriment.

Alright, I will confess that Wilson has played much better than I was willing to give him credit for. I still think Matt Flynn would probably be the more consistently productive quarterback, and it won’t surprise me if Flynn and his agent seek a trade to a team willing to give him an honest shot. But I have my suspicion is that Wilson will play well enough to fool many people into thinking that he is one of those “athletic” quarterbacks—the run and pass type—who is exciting to watch and whose flaws go under the radar because the players around him are dependent on him to make them “look good”—just ask Sidney Rice when he played with Brett Favre. Favre transformed raw talents like Greg Jennings and James Jones into top receivers in his last season in Green Bay. Can the same be said about Wilson, who all his local media fans think he is the “greatest?”