Monday, July 27, 2009

Glenn Loury on the Gates arrest in Cambridge, MA

Brown University professor Glenn Loury has a very thoughtful oped In Sunday's The New York Times on the failure of President Obama see the bigger picture around the arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates for "disorderly conduct" in his own house.

I strongly suggest that you read Prof. Loury's commentary.

The conversation that we should be having is not about race or racists but about policies that result in the criminal justice problems that we suffer.

I agree with Prof. Loury's thoughts.

But I wonder...

How do we deal with anti-social behavior? Kick ass, boys. Take names. Lock 'em up! Young men -- black, white and Hispanic -- are hounded by police. They are stopped when driving on pretexts. They are stopped on the streets on pretexts.

A decade ago, I regularly spoke to high school students about criminal procedure. "How many of you have been asked to 'assume the position'?" I would ask. The Hispanic and black students all raised their hands. The white students wondered what I was talking about -- some sexual thing?

Of course I am talking about being asked to face a wall, put one's hands up and apart and spread one's legs so that the kid can be frisked by a police officer. The officer feels the arms, torso, buttocks and legs of the kid looking for a weapon or for a container that might contain illegal drugs. Did probable cause to justify a warrantless search exist? No. The officer is supposedly making a "pat down" to preliminarily look for a weapon to protect himself or herself before further questioning the young person about their activities.

Sadly, the police regularly face real dangers on their beats and in their confrontations with the public. Their approach to those dangers may be protective, but they may also aggravate the disrespect that they find so galling, and that may incite acts of violence.

This police approach to the general public is the lock 'n load approach that is mocked by E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post: arm the Senate. Give everyone a gun, and the criminals will be intimidated.

I want to lament the breakdown of "community." But I know that it is broken. Too many people that I meet see me as a stranger -- as someone outside their family, clan, club, or gang who see me as a threat or a mark. How did our civilization get to the place where the default remedy is to arm oneself?

Can the police trust that they will be treated respectfully and nonviolently by all that they stop? Of course not. Will they treat some with respect and others with hostility? Yes. Will profiling of some kind influence that decision making? Almost certainly. Will this profiling include racial profiling? How can it not?

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Friday, July 24, 2009

McNamara and Stamper on the Gates arrest in Cambridge

The Los Angeles Times interviewed two of America's smartest former police chiefs about the arrest of prominent Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and President Obama's comments at a press conference.

Joseph McNamara, former chief of police in San Jose, CA and Kansas City, MO, now at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, condemned the President's remarks as a setback for the nation. Characterizing saying the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" before he knew all the facts inflamed the public in its view of the situation.

Norm Stamper, former chief of police in Seattle, WA, and author of Breaking Rank, an outstanding guide to police management, noted that the Cambridge, MA officer, Joseph Crowley, should have used "verbal judo" to defuse Gates' anger.

Both men are members of LEAP.

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This is Your Country on Drugs by Ryan Grim

Ryan Grim has written an excellent, up to date book about drugs in America. Grim's writing is sharp and compelling, and he is a great story teller and researcher. I learned something new on almost every page.

Grim does an outstanding job weaving history, economics, survey data, and fascinating anecdotes in telling an honest story about drug use, drug culture, drug enforcement, and drug policy.

One of Grim's outstanding contributions is the clearer illumination of the long-standing pattern of substitution of drugs. This, of course, is not a new point. It was widely remarked upon as an unintended consequence in 1969 of President Nixon's Operation Intercept that nearly shut the border with Mexico for 10 days in September. Substitutes for Mexican marijuana were the consequence.

Grim points out, for example, that as the alcohol temperance movement was gaining steam in the Nineteenth Century, the nation saw a dramatic rise in the use of opiates. This was not use by Chinese immigrants. At some points in our history, use of opium was less scandalous than drinking.

Grim has done some excellent reporting, and this book is hard to put down.

If you want to know about the drug scene in much of the U.S., this book will probably tell you. (However, one aspect that seemed thin to me is the current heroin scene in the U.S. HIV/AIDS is discussed only in the context of the dramatic increase in the medical use of marijuana in the 1980s and 1990s.)

I highly recommend this book. You can get it on for $8.50 off the list price!!

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