The Thin Blue Line

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There’s a lot we won’t ever know for sure about the death of 16-year-old Kimani Gray, shot to death by police on Monday, March 11 in the Brooklyn district of East Flatbush. Here’s what we do know: two plainclothes officers approached Gray after seeing him “suspiciously fixing his waistband.” The confrontation ended with the officers firing eleven bullets at the teen, hitting him with seven, including three in the back.

In between the waistband-fixing and the body hitting the ground, things get less clear. The officers claim that as they approached Gray, he pulled out a revolver and aimed it at them, thus their use of deadly force. At least one eyewitness, however, claims that Gray had nothing in his hands and did not appear armed; furthermore, when he was already on the ground, clutching the wound at his stomach, one officer told him to “Stay down or we’ll shoot you again.” Another witness claimed that Gray did have a gun, and was trying to make that known precisely so he wouldn’t be perceived as a threat. But let’s give the cops the thing they never seem to give suspects in these situations: the benefit of the doubt. Say Gray was pointing a gun at them. Are they justified in firing? Firing eleven rounds, including three after Gray’s back was already turned?

Remember, from Gray’s point of view, these men aren’t identifiable as policemen. That’s the whole point of plainclothes. All he sees is two random guys approaching him, intent on something. Even if he does draw, even if he does take aim, this is still a defensive posture. The police and various eyewitnesses naturally disagree as to whether any advance warning was given, but even if the officers did announce themselves before firing, Gray has no reason to believe them.

Bear in mind that this is the version in which the police come off best. This isn’t the telling in which two patrolmen shoot yet another unarmed black male, and plant a gun on him in order to cover up their malfeasance, and trust in the blue wall of silence to take care of the rest. No, in this rendering, a case could be made, however tenuous, for pumping seven bullets into a scared teenager. But even so, the incident — like several hundred more in the last few years alone — stands as an indictment of the policing tactics in Mayor Bloomberg’s city.

If you disagree, you are free to protest — but NYPD is also free to treat your protest as an incipient riot, and deploy troops accordingly.

Recall that it was Bloomberg who strongly encouraged the use of “stop and frisk” techniques, which allow policemen operating under a “reasonable suspicion” to detain anyone on the sidewalk, and publicly pat them down for weapons. Even though more than 90% of these stops do not result in arrests — and far fewer still in convictions, often because they illegally seize small drug stashes (and, lately, arrest women carrying condoms as prostitutes) in the process — and even though by the city’s own stats these tactics are disproportionately used on blacks and Latinos, intensifying the distrust felt by many minorities for the police, Bloomberg insists this suspension of Fourth Amendment rights is crucial to protecting New Yorkers as they go about their daily business.

The question of who, exactly, will protect New Yorkers like Kimani Gray (or those within stray-bullet or ricochet range when police open fire), seems irrelevant to these calculations — if you are “fixing your waistband” in public, and especially if you’re young, black, or Latino, you simply don’t count in the same way as the hypothetical citizen Bloomberg has in mind. If you disagree, you are free to protest — as many in the community did in the nights after Gray’s death — but NYPD is also free to treat your protest as an incipient riot, and deploy troops accordingly. The last few nights, police in riot gear have used “kettling” tactics, extending netting across streets and maneuvering on horseback in order to constrict protestor movement, and eventually to envelop them completely. A minimum of 19 (and possibly upwards of 40 or 50) were arrested, many of them young black women. Hair was pulled, faces were pushed into concrete, pregnant woman were shoved to the ground.

When several journalists, who were streaming a live feed of the scene, tried to approach closer, they were met with police claiming another of Bloomberg’s suspensions of constitutional rights: the “frozen zone” that supposedly trumps the First Amendment protection of freedom of assembly. Like so many abrogations of our rights, this has its roots in counter-terrorism, being conceived as a justification for dispersing crowds around the WTC site on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11. It was deployed liberally against the Occupy crowds, since Zuccotti Park was conveniently located near Ground Zero; now it appears to be available as an on-site justification anywhere in the city. Here’s how it seemed to work last night: a journalist approaches the scene of an arrest, and a cop orders them to leave, because it’s a frozen zone — and that is the extent of the logic involved: “Because I said so.”

It’s the same logic that’s at work throughout Bloomberg’s fiefdom, extending all the way from Wall Street to the corner store (even if the ludicrous Big Gulp ban was at last overturned). The control he exercises makes him the envy and icon of every politico who aspires to power simply because he knows best — and, if you’ve been keeping track, you’ll know that’s pretty much every one of them.

The end result of such arbitrary, good-for-you power is what has been termed the “carceral state”: a polity based on imprisonment, whether or not that corresponds with actual prison bars. The days of community policing are long dead; the model now is adversarial policing. Kettling, stop and frisk, frozen zones: these are prison tactics, marks of a society bent on treating citizens as inmates. So far in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, that has meant inconvenience and harassment for millions, and death for Kimani Gray and hundreds more.



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Taking Aim

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What I would like to talk about today is two themes that come together. The first is what is wrong with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the second is what’s wrong with Independence Institute President Jon Caldara.

Michael Bloomberg has created a faux grassroots organization called “Mayors Against Illegal Guns.” Financially, it is by far the economic center of the gun prohibition movement in this country today. It is very wealthy and employs lots and lots of lobbyists in DC and in state capitals around the country. George Soros put some money in it as well; they’ve got some bucks.

But it’s not exactly what it seems. There are 12 people who got their names off this list of supposedly “Mayors against illegal guns.” These mayors said, “I never signed up for this; you just put my name on this without asking me. Or you told me his group is against illegal guns. Well, there are not too many people for illegal guns, so I signed up. It turns out you’re just against guns in general.”

There are another 19 mayors, actual members of “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” who now have left office because of felony convictions or because they are under indictment or because charges are pending or because they had to resign and the prosecutor was nice and didn’t bring a case. With 19 identified criminals in “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” Michael Bloomberg’s organization has a much higher crime rate then do people who have permits to carry handguns for their own protection.

In the interest of truth and advertising, the proper way to refer to this group is “Illegal Mayors Against Guns.”

But I would say they have done one important service. There are a lot of people who wonder if there is an afterlife or not. How could you ever know for sure? Well, one mayor who was in this group and genuinely signed up for it passed away, and yet afterwards “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” was distributing letters from him lobbying on the gun issue — anti-gun letters signed by this deceased mayor. So if there any doubt, well, doesn’t that prove there is an afterlife?

I’m not sure if writing anti-gun letters is the ideal way to spend it. Probably this mayor enjoyed it.

What we consistently see out of Michael Bloomberg and his crowd, including in their attempts to exploit the recent murders in Aurora and Wisconsin, and really every day, is undifferentiated hostility towards gun ownership and especially toward people who own firearms for protection.

With 19 identified criminals in “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” Michael Bloomberg’s organization has a much higher crime rate then do people who have permits to carry handguns for their own protection.

This is rather hypocritical because when Michael Bloomberg says people shouldn’t have guns for protection, he must have his fingers crossed or he has a mental reservation. Apparently if you can get an entire New York police security detail carrying machine guns to accompany you every second, that’s OK. Because after all, he isn’t personally owning a gun for protection. So maybe he feels there is some kind of difference there.

And they put out these terrible malicious, libels against people — like when they say the only reason the person would own an AR-15 rifle is because they want to be a mass murderer.

What a horrible thing to say about the literally millions of Americans who have made the AR-15 the most popular, best-selling rifle in the United States of America, and what a malicious falsehood to say about our police who frequently carry an AR-15 in their squad cars for those circumstances where they might need a rifle for backup.

Neither the Americans who use their AR-15 for target shooting, for home defense, for hunting game up to the size of deer (it’s not powerful enough for anything larger than that), nor the police who use AR-15s, want to harm a lot of people. They have these firearms for legitimate purposes and especially for protecting themselves and other people.

At the Independence Institute, in our legal work on the gun issue, we almost always file joint amicus briefs with police organizations. We represented a huge coalition of police organizations in the Supreme Court amicus briefs we filed in Heller and McDonald.

Just last week in Woollard v.Gallagher, in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, our amicus brief was filed not only for the Independence Institute but also for the two major organizations which train law enforcement in firearms use. These are the policemen who are the trainers for all the rest of the police: the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association and the International Association Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors.

What we consistently say with the police is that there is one key principle which has two manifestations. One is that guns in the wrong hands are very dangerous, and so we need strong laws to try to keep guns out from the wrong hands; and if they get in the wrong hands we need strong laws to punish misuse and to put misusers away so they can no longer endanger innocents.

The second part of the principle is that guns in the right hands protect public safety. They help the police to protect people; they help civilians protect each other; they sometimes civilians help protect the police. So we are also in need of strong laws to make sure there are guns in the right hands, to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to purchase, own, use, and carry firearms.

Forty years ago there were virtually no gun laws of any sort in Colorado or in most of the United States. The reason the gun debate in this country has finally settled down after four decades, as it also has in Colorado, especially after Columbine, is that we’ve come to a Colorado consensus and a national consensus based on a common sense. We have added a lot of laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands and we have added a lot of laws to protect the rights of law-abiding people.

Because of the right to carry law, Jeannie Assam, a church volunteer, was lawfully carrying a handgun. She stopped the killer.

The most important of these laws in Colorado, which is the same thing we are supporting in the Woollard case in Maryland (Maryland being one of the nine holdout states on this issue), is the right to carry. Colorado’s right to carry law was written by the County Sheriffs of Colorado. It insures that a law-abiding adult who passes a fingerprint-based background check and a safety training class can obtain a permit to carry a handgun for lawful protection.

That’s our single most important post-Columbine reform. At the Independence Institute we worked on this issue for a decade to make it become law, and what a difference it’s already made.

You know what happened in December 2007 when an evildoer went into the sanctuary of the New Life megachurch in Colorado Springs. Seven thousand people were there. He had already murdered four people, two in Denver, two people in a parking lot, and he went in there intent on mass murder. Because of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, because of the right to carry law, Jeannie Assam, a church volunteer, was lawfully carrying a handgun. She stopped the killer. Pastor Brady Boyd said she saved over a hundred lives that day.

We want laws like that everywhere in the country. We have them in 41 states. Maryland is coming soon. It is essential that the right to bear arms be protected nationally, as all national civil rights should be.

Another thing we are going to be promoting very much at the Independence Institute is stronger laws on mental health. There are lots of ways government spending can be cut, starting with corporate welfare, which is illegal by four different clauses of Colorado constitution. We should cut every penny that goes toward corporate welfare and spend it on proper government services.

At the next session of the legislature we are going to explain the importance of better funding for mental health services — not only because of sensational crimes like in Aurora, but also because of the many homicides that happen and that never get camera crews from other continents out here. In Colorado and around the country there are so many murders perpetrated by people who are seriously mentally ill — people who 30 years ago or 50 years ago would have properly been institutionalized, but today there are no beds for them and no support system. We want to change that. We want to take money out of the hands of corporate welfare, away from special interests and put the money into the community interest of a better, stronger system of mental health in Colorado.

So that’s what’s wrong with Michael Bloomberg on the gun issue, but let me tell you what’s wrong with Jon Caldara, our president at the Independence Institute. In his opening remarks today he referred to the alcohol, tobacco, and firearms we’re celebrating at this party as the “perks of adulthood.” That’s fine to characterize alcohol and tobacco in those terms, but it’s not right on the firearms side.

Let me tell you about two different places in the world. One is Western Australia. There was a study done of aborigines in Western Australia who were in prison for felonies. One group of the imprisoned criminals had misused guns in a crime. The second group also had guns; but they had never misused a gun against a human being.

What was the difference between the two groups? The criminals who never misused a gun against a person had been taught about guns by an older authority figure such as father or an uncle. They had learned about shooting sports and acquired an attitude of treating guns with responsibility. They saw guns as something you use to shoot some game but not something you use to try to harm an innocent person.

Another study comes from Rochester, New York, on the other side of the world. They did a longitudinal study to try to find the 16-year-olds who are the most likely to become juvenile delinquents and then criminals. This means they didn’t study girls at all. If you want to study crime, and you have only so many people you can study, you focus on the males; that’s just a sociological fact. They tracked these young people over the years.

The youths who at 16 illegally owned a gun (maybe they bought a handgun from somebody on the street) had in future years a very high rate of being arrested for serious crimes, including gun crimes. The youths who at 16 legally owned a gun (say they had a shotgun that their parents given them, or went hunting with their dads or rifle shooting with their uncles), they had essentially no crime of any type. So how young people are socialized about guns is hugely important in future outcomes.

Now contrary to this socialization that some of the young people in Western Australia and in Rochester had is the desensitization that comes through too much of our media, particularly television entertainment and movies. The people who produce these horrible grotesque pornographic celebrations of violence, like Quentin Tarantino’s movies, will tell you, “Oh, it doesn’t affect people; movies and TV have no influence on people.”

I’m sure that’s true for the large majority of folks. But if you say that what is on television has no effect on what people do, isn’t it kind of odd that they sell advertising? What a waste of money that must be, because apparently what you see never affects what you do.

How strange it is that these movies and TV shows have sold product placements. Where they say “Oh, if Coca-Cola pays us some money, we will have a character drinking a Coca-Cola.” But apparently on the other hand what the people see on TV and the movies never has any effect on them.

Likewise, in the ongoing culture war against smoking, you’re not supposed to show characters smoking in a movie that young people are going to see. So the producers do think that what people see does have an effect.

So now Hollywood says “We are going to make sure that when a 15 year old goes to a movie he is never going to see somebody lighting up a cigarette, but he is going to see mass violence and gun misuse.”

We’re not for censorship at the Independence Institute. But we are for counter-programming and that’s part of what the ATF Party is about. It is about introducing some of you to shooting sports, giving others the opportunity to participate more often, and hoping that all of you go out and introduce your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors and especially some young people you know to responsible shooting. Which is, as you know, a culture of safety, responsibility, self-control, self-discipline — of so many things that exemplify exactly what’s right about America.

Youths who at 16 illegally owned a gun had in future years a very high gun crime rate. But those who legally owned a gun at 16 committed few crimes of any type.

Some of the things that we are handing out today come from our friends at the NRA. Founded in 1871, the NRA is America’s oldest civil rights organization, and one of America’s oldest mass educational organizations as well. They’ve been teaching people about shooting safety and responsibility, with a special focus on young people, ever since 1871. So there are lots of materials you can take with you.

One of those I especially recommended is the NRA Qualification Program. It’s about the size of a magazine and it shows how you can practice and improve your gun proficiency on your own, whether you like air guns or sporting clays or .22 caliber rifles or revolvers or whatever. The Qualification Program has courses of target shooting you can go through and earn yourself these cool little patches and medals as you work your way up in proficiency. It’s a self-paced thing, so everybody can do it and we encourage you to do it yourself and hope you introduce as many people to it as possible.

On the gun issue we are not only on the pro-choice side; we are on the pro-life side as well. What we are doing on ATF day and what we do every day at the Independence Institute is to fight for those life-saving values of safety, responsibility and American constitutional rights.

We are not just protecting rights in Colorado; in the long term, we are making sure that those rights are protected nationally, as we did in the McDonald case.

We look forward to the day when even the people in the most oppressed parts of the United States — under the sweltering heel of Michael Bloomberg — will regain their rights to smoke a cigarette or a cigar, to drink a Big Gulp soda, and to own and carry a handgun for lawful protection, because it is a civil right of every American.

Thank you.


Editor's Note: This article is adapted from a speech given at the Independence Institute’s 10th annual Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Party. The ATF Party speeches were broadcast on C-SPAN.



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Irene: The Man-Made Disaster

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I am a victim of Hurricane Irene.

My friend and I were visiting New York when Irene “struck” early today — Sunday, August 28. We had plane reservations to leave the city on Saturday, August 27. Delta Airlines canceled our reservations on Friday afternoon. It, like all the other airlines, abandoned traffic to New York more than 24 hours before any hurricane could possibly have caused trouble at the airports. Because of these cancellations, travel throughout the nation was convulsed.

None of this was necessary, or wise, or profitable to anyone. It was the result of a panic induced by government and media, and willingly indulged by the kind of corporations that have acquired the worst characteristics of both &‐ arbitrary power and a zest for misinformation. When our reservations were zeroed out, we were emailed, almost a day after the fact, “Your flight has been cancelled” (no apology, no explanation); then we were told that “we have rebooked you on another flight” — two days later. Notice the transition between the passive mood, which people in power reserve for the bad things they do, and the active mood, which they choose for the good things they don’t do. Our flight wasn’t rebooked by the airline; it was rebooked by us, after we pestered the airline and they eventually returned our call, and after we were unable to rebook it on the airline’s website, which wasn’t working. The woman who finally assisted us acted as if it was an amazing idea that we should be reimbursed for the downgrade of our tickets from first class to coach.

But let me report a few highlights of this ridiculous exercise in misinformation and authoritarianism, by which all America was damaged by a minor storm.

On Wednesday, ABC reported that the hurricane, then reputedly a category 3, or maybe 2, “could be category 4 by Thursday.” Other media, including the Weather Channel, suggested that it would be. When the hurricane came ashore in North Carolina on Saturday, it was barely a category 1, something that the media geniuses never believed could happen to their darling, “the hurricane of a lifetime,” although normal people easily guessed it. By Saturday evening, Irene was visibly disintegrating, had lost its eye, and was about to become a mere tropical storm, and not an especially strong one. Yet at that time, the mayor of New York was strongly advising all people to stay at home between 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday, had closed all mass transit at noon on Saturday, had sent his goons out to advise people living in 30-story buildings that they ought to evacuate, because the park next door might flood, and was telling workers to plan on mass transit still being shut down during their Monday morning commute. He seemed to enjoy himself, decreeing fates like that.

Businesses were closing everywhere in Manhattan, because of the mass transit shutdown, but my friend and I found a restaurant, “Da Marino,” that promised to be open on Saturday evening, and on Sunday evening if possible. To deal with the transit problem, the management had rented rooms for their employees in a hotel next door. So on Saturday night we enjoyed a good meal and listened while people accurately identified Bloomberg as the man who was causing the mess. But most merchants had shut down on Saturday afternoon, or failed to open that day at all. All Starbucks stores shut down. Pastry shops that cater to the local hotel business shut down, even though they had a captive mob of customers. Madame Tussaud’s shut down. Even churches canceled their Sunday services. Leaving Da Marino after an excellent dinner, served to customers reported to be more numerous than at any time in the restaurant’s history, my friend and I looked down Broadway from 49th Street to Times Square. The lights were on, but there was no crowd, no life, no business. A few people drifted across the street, in posses of two or three. Official vehicles could be seen in the distance, idling and flashing their lights. A faint drizzle of rain came down. That was the Great White Way on Saturday evening, August 27.

And why? Because the official class decreed that there should be a disaster.

Back in our hotel, we turned on the disaster reports on TV. Local news was enthusiastic about a picture of Grand Central Station standing empty except for cops who were there to fend normal people off. “No reason why you should go there anyway,” the news anchor said. A young newsperson, standing on location amid a few drips of water, predicted that soon, very soon, the neighborhood in which he stood would be hopelessly flooded. Anchorpeople advertised the fact that 4,000 people were now without electricity in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, not stating how many of the millions who live in those areas are without energy at any normal time. The electric company, prompted by the mayor, threatened to cut off energy “preemptively” to large areas of New York City, allegedly to protect its equipment against flooding. And to make matters worse, yet another of Bloomberg’s constant news conferences was threatened.

My friend and I fell asleep. When we awoke at 10 on Sunday morning, the rain had gone; the sun was shining; and people were walking the streets, sans umbrellas, hunting for places to eat. Places to enjoy. Places to honor with their business. Places that had survived the onslaught of paternalism.

Soon we will hear how many billions of dollars Hurricane Irene cost the nation. But remember: the hurricane itself was responsible for virtually none of those losses. This was a manmade disaster.




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