Teach Your Children

I have what I regard as a good working relationship with the Rutherford Police Department, and count its chief, John Russo, as a friend. I’ve hosted members of the Department twice at my university, and have been a guest of Chief Russo’s at the Department itself. I have no objection to police visits to schools per se, but I think some balance is in order: if cops are going to visit schools, civil libertarians from the ACLU or similar organizations should be visiting the same students in the same schools. A school unwilling to host civil libertarians should not be hosting cops. Far too many do.

https://twitter.com/RutherfordPDNJ/status/1103848659538579457

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R. Kelly and Mob Justice

I was on spring break last week, so I made the mistake of sitting down and watching some TV for the first time since Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s just my ineptitude with a remote, but aside from Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism, the only topic that seemed up for discussion was R. Kelly and the charges made against him. (I also made the mistake of watching Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” quixotically expecting a Spike Lee movie to rise above the level of a comic book, but alas, wrong again. More on that fiasco some other time.)

Here’s an obvious point about guilt and innocence when it comes to criminal charges: if you’re going to try someone for a criminal allegation in the court of public opinion–a very big and very dubious if–you have to distinguish clearly between four mutually exclusive things:

  • the case against him,
  • the case in his defense,
  • the set of known facts that don’t easily fit either of the first two categories, and
  • the unknowns.

The least you can do is to try to do justice to the facts in all four categories, rather than fixating on, say, the case against him to the exclusion of everything else. There are complications here about how broadly or narrowly to understand each category, but even if we set those aside, there’s more than enough complexity here to keep a competent journalist busy for awhile. Continue reading

Drivin’ and Cryin’: Bumps on the Road to Pot Legalization

I’m all in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana, indeed for the eventual legalization of recreational pot use, but the closer we come to achieving that goal, the greater the number of practical quasi-dilemmas we’ll have to face that we’d never had to consider before. These quasi-dilemmas may not be conclusive considerations against full legalization, but they can’t be minimized, either.

It’s common for advocates of legalization to compare pot with alcohol: if we accept recreational alcohol consumption, why not accept recreational consumption of pot? In many ways (it’s plausibly argued), alcohol is worse than pot. If we overlook the problems with alcohol and allow recreational alcohol consumption anyway, it seems inconsistent to fixate on the similar problems with pot in order to ban the recreational use of pot. Continue reading

How to Face Down the Secret Service

More or less like this:

https://nypost.com/video/woman-who-posted-about-trump-slams-door-on-secret-service-agent/

And not just the Secret Service, but any law enforcement agency that treats you as these officers treat her.

On the whole, I’d say she gets things just right. Some minor criticisms:

I would not have bothered to ask the agent about any charges the Secret Service might be contemplating; unless they’re formally making a charge, they won’t truthfully tell you what charges they have in mind. In any case, they have the legal authority to lie and bluff about whatever charges they’re contemplating, so there’s no reason to believe anything they tell you before they arrest you. If they have a formal charge to make, they’ll make it if and when they arrest you (or even more precisely, if and when you’re arraigned); otherwise, asking about prospective charges is a waste of time, and a good way of getting needlessly drawn into an unintentionally incriminating conversation with them, which is what they’re here for, and the last thing you want to do. Continue reading

Hey, PoPo–Leave Those Kids Alone

Is the behavior described in this story immoral? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Punishment-worthy? Maybe. But the appropriate subject of a police investigation? No.

We’re all justifiably outraged when someone calls the cops on black people engaged in some innocuous activity–be it barbecuing, babysitting, or whatever. But calling the cops to “assist” in a school investigation into fascist speech is no better than that, and fundamentally, no different. It’s a misuse of the powers of the police, and yet another illegitimate broadening of the scope of their activities. Continue reading

Felician Events: Policing, Deportation, and Immigrant Rights

Three event announcements for people in the New York/New Jersey metro area (this announcement amends and supersedes an earlier one I put up):

Policing from a Cop’s Point of View
Thursday, November 8, 2018, 1-2:15 pm
“Ray’s Place,” Main Auditorium, Education Commons Building
Felician University’s Rutherford campus
227 Montross Ave.
Rutherford, New Jersey 07070

We live in a climate of opinion that is highly critical of the police: charges of racism, brutality, procedural irregularity and the like abound. But what is the experience of working police officers? How do they experience what they deal with on the job, and what do they think about the criticisms commonly made of them?

We’ll hear answers to these and other questions from four local police officers: Louis Mignone, a former detective for the West Orange Police Department (now an adjunct in Felician’s Department of Criminal Justice); Julie Ann Zeigler, a sergeant for the Rutherford Police Department; John Russo, Chief of Police for the Rutherford Police Department; and John Link, former Chief of Police of the Clifton Police Department (and an adjunct in Felician’s Department of Criminal Justice). The event is free and open to the public.

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Police Tailgating as Entrapment: A Comment and Query

I live a fair distance from work, so I spend a fair bit of time driving on interstate highways. Because I do, I have a fair opportunity to observe the rather unfair doings of the New Jersey State Police on our interstate highways. This is the kind of behavior I see just about every day:

And this is the kind of behavior I’ve seen more than once (albeit by local police, not by state troopers):

I once saw a Glen Ridge police officer tailgate and then crash into the car he was tailgating, in part because he was lighting a cigarette while doing so. Having crashed into the car in front of him (at a red light), he called in backup, surrounded the victim’s car, then aggressively interrogated her at the scene–presumably for the crime of his having crashed into her. (This despite the fact that liability for rear-end collisions is almost always pinned on the car in the rear.) I wish I’d recorded it, but I didn’t have a cellphone at the time.   Continue reading

“An Enmity to One’s Being”: A Murder in Palestine

Put in mere prose, the event sounds so humdrum and everyday that the reader is apt to let it in through one ear, and let it out the other:

AFTER A TRIAL that lasted nearly four years, Ben Deri, a former member of Israel’s paramilitary border police force, was sentenced to nine months in jail on Wednesday for firing live ammunition through the chest of an unarmed Palestinian protester without having been ordered to do so.

But sometimes, seeing is believing, and sticks with you awhile:

People sometimes complain, justifiably, that video footage of a crime or atrocity distorts the event by truncation: you miss what preceded the footage, and what came after, to fixate unfairly on the slice in between. Harder to make that claim here. Continue reading

Documenting a Police Detention (2): The Long and Short of It

All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place. –George Orwell, 1984

As readers of this blog know, on November 29, 2017, I was detained and interrogated for several hours by members of the Lodi Police Department and Bergen County Prosecutors Office on suspicion of being an “active shooter.” Though I was not formally charged with a crime, my detention was arguably tantamount to a full arrest: I was involuntarily transported from the original place of detention to a nearby police station, involuntarily held there for a few hours, and involuntarily questioned, despite repeated invocations of my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Eventually, I was released without further incident.

A few weeks ago, I sent Open Public Records Act requests to both agencies for documentation of my detention. The Lodi Police Department responded to my request with a 21 page document. The Bergen County Prosecutors Office responded with a one page letter. Both sets of documents are instructive, both for what they say and for what they omit.  Continue reading