After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., a quick, high-profile round of on-camera media interviews by Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson helped establish the public narrative that officer Darren Wilson had stopped Brown and Johnson for no better reason than walking in the street, and that a peaceable Brown had been gunned down while trying to surrender with his hands in the air. To put it mildly, several key elements in this account were not well supported by the investigations later conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and others, and Johnson’s version of events was further put in shadow by the revelation that before the police stop he had accompanied Brown into a convenience store where Brown committed a strong-arm robbery of cigars later handed off to Johnson. At any event, Johnson has now filed a lawsuit against the town and against Wilson for being stopped and for the subsequent gunfire: Johnson wasn’t hit, but says he was endangered by the shots. [NBC News] Meanwhile, the chairman of the large law firm of Winston & Strawn will receive $1,300 an hour to represent Ferguson in the Justice Department probe. [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal]
- Lucrative: Los Angeles writes $197 tickets for entering a crosswalk with “Don’t Walk” blinking [L.A. Times, more]
- Forfeiture reform bill in Tennessee legislature stalls after “a key committee heard from family members who are in law enforcement and who do not want to give up a source of income.” [WTVF (auto-plays ad) via Balko]
- As protagonists got deeper into trouble, they kept making bad decisions: Heather Mac Donald has a dissenting take on Alice Goffman’s much-noted book “On the Run” [City Journal, more favorable Tyler Cowen review previously linked]
- In Georgia: “Probation Firm Holds Poor For ‘Ransom,’ Suit Charges” [NBC News, Thomasville, Ga., Times-Enterprise]
- Police and fire jobs are dangerous by ordinary measure but involve less risk of fatality on job than trucker (2-3x risk), construction, taxi, groundskeeper, sanitation [New York Times]
- Police think tank finds St. Louis County ticketing culture “dysfunctional and unsustainable” [Ryan J. Reilly, HuffPo] John Oliver on snowballing effect of petty municipal fines and fees [YouTube] NYC is writing fewer summonses for teenagers these days [Brian Doherty]
- “Subtle hand movements,” whispering, being nervous, changes in breathing: list of six “invisible” signs someone is resisting an officer [Grant Stern, Photography Is Not a Crime response to Joel Shults, PoliceOne]
- Driver’s license suspensions, which many states use to punish unpaid court debt and other offenses unrelated to driving skill, can accelerate spiral into indigency [New York Times]
- Your war on distracted driving: woman says she received $200 ticket “for putting on lip balm at a red light.” [KLAS Las Vegas, Nev.]
- “Of Course We Have No Ticket Quotas, But ….” [Lowering the Bar; Edmundson, Mo., in St. Louis County; Mariah Stewart, Huffington Post on revenue generation in Berkeley, Mo., and other neighboring towns; Scott Greenfield (“Ferguson: Where Everyone’s a Criminal”)]
- Yet more on St. Louis County: it started with a “defective muffler” stop in Florissant [Riverfront Times]
- NYC: “Speed cameras lead to surge in tickets and $16.9M in revenue for city” [NY Daily News]
- New Los Angeles parking signs explain it all for you, also recall design of craps table [Mark Frauenfelder, BoingBoing]
- Virginia: “How Police Drones and License-Plate Readers Threaten Liberty” [A. Barton Hinkle; related, Jim Harper/D.C. Examiner]
- Missouri law incentivizes local ticket-writing, Illinois not so much. Guess how municipalities respond? [Jesse Walker] “Ferguson’s Court Fine Scandal Arose Because Of Its Bloated Government” [Scott Beyer; earlier on fines and fees in Ferguson here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.] “Nassau’s top cop orders retraining of officers who write fewest tickets” [Newsday via @GoLongIsland]
- Maryland House passes forfeiture reform 81-54, with nearly all GOPers voting against the property rights side [my Free State Notes post, Maryland Reporter and more (Baltimore County Del. and former police officer John Cluster “said he hadn’t seen a single case of abuse in his time”), Jason Boisvert]
- “Quiet change expands ATF power to seize property” [Adam Bates, Cato]
- Meanwhile on the civil side, hedge funds place heavy bets on litigation finance [Paul Barrett, Business Week]
- In news that will surprise few libertarians, debt collection on behalf of government agencies is fraught with problems [CNN project overview links to individual stories]
- Among its numerous other problems, pending “human trafficking” bill would establish a fund to cycle fines back to law enforcement and victim advocates [Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason]
- Investigation into forfeiture in Indiana [Indianapolis Star]
Courageous “I was wrong” column by Jonathan Capehart in the Washington Post on having prejudged the Brown-Wilson confrontation in Ferguson, Mo.:
But this month, the Justice Department released two must-read investigations connected to the killing of Brown that filled in blanks, corrected the record and brought sunlight to dark places by revealing ugly practices that institutionalized racism and hardship. They have also forced me to deal with two uncomfortable truths: Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and Wilson was justified in shooting Brown. …
…it is imperative that we continue marching for and giving voice to those killed in racially charged incidents at the hands of police and others. But we must never allow ourselves to march under the banner of a false narrative on behalf of someone who would otherwise offend our sense of right and wrong. And when we discover that we have, we must acknowledge it, admit our error and keep on marching. That’s what I’ve done here.
Meanwhile, in recent days, writers at National Review and Red State have taken a look at DoJ’s Ferguson report (our earlier post on it) and say conservatives should be in the forefront of criticizing and calling for reform of the police and municipal-court abuses it exposes. [summarized by Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic; see also Charles Cooke, National Review, on race and conservatives]
Left and right admitting that the other side had a point on some aspects of Ferguson? It seems as unlikely yet welcome as the sun coming out to shine after this past Northeastern winter.
Confirming expectations, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced that it will not file federal civil rights charges against the police officer who shot Michael Brown following an altercation on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. [CBS] Contrary to a visual theme repeated before countless news cameras through weeks of protests, “no, Michael Brown’s hands probably were not up” at the time of the shooting [Wesley Lowery, Washington Post] In the end, “Hands Up — Don’t Shoot” 2014’s iconic protest gesture, was founded in the self-serving, oft-repeated eyewitness account of Brown chum/soon-established-robbery-accomplice Dorrian Johnson. And he was credible why?
At the same time, the report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Justice makes clear (AP, WaPo) that the Ferguson, Mo. police department was up to its hip in bad practices, ranging from the rights-violative (knowingly baseless arrests and stops, arresting persons for recording police actions) to the cynical (“revenue policing” aimed at squeezing money out of the populace over subjective/petty offenses that include “manner of walking.”)
Whether these bad local police practices are a suitable subject for federal oversight, and where the actually existing U.S. Department of Justice gets off complaining about high-handed and revenue-driven law enforcement given its own sorry track record, are other questions. But any view of Ferguson’s troubles in the back-view mirror should now acknowledge two things: 1) many people rushed to assume Officer Darren Wilson’s guilt who should have known better; 2) even so, there was much to protest in Ferguson law enforcement. (cross-posted, with a new concluding paragraph, at Cato at Liberty).
More links of interest: Don’t miss Conor Friedersdorf’s “parade of horrors” summary of the worst police abuses bared in the DoJ report [The Atlantic]; Alex Tabarrok on the Ferguson “kleptocracy” [Marginal Revolution] and Stephen Carter on “Ferguson and Its Money-Hungry Police” [Bloomberg View]; Scott Greenfield on whether or why to trust in the USDOJ.
- Government of Canada alleges bill-padding by “king of class action lawsuits” in Indian residential schools compensation case [CBC; earlier here, here, and here]
- P.F. Chang’s sued over surcharge on gluten-free menu [Yahoo, John O’Brien/Legal NewsLine]
- Town consolidation as a cure for fragmented North County woes? Not so fast [Jesse Walker] Would it help if the towns went broke? [Megan McArdle, related on “taxation by citation”] St. Louis Post-Dispatch has gathered its coverage of the Ferguson story at a single portal;
- “It was (Scottish) land law’s greatest ever day on twitter” [@MalcolmCombe Storify]
- Billion-dollar lawsuit over natural gas collapses after “lawyers discovered that a key piece of evidence had been fabricated.” [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]
- “Double Platinum Rapper Shilling For Local Lawyer Now” [Above the Law; Mark Jones, Columbus, Ga.]
- She stoops to instruct: “Read the briefs,” Linda Greenhouse tells SCOTUS regarding high-profile King v. Burwell ObamaCare case [James Taranto, WSJ “Best of the Web”]. More: Robert Levy.
Missouri lawmakers are discussing a bill that would discourage speed traps and excessive municipal reliance on fines by providing that revenue from traffic citations could not exceed 10 percent of a town’s revenues, down from 30 percent currently. [St. Louis Public Radio]
Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch testified in favor of Senate Bill 5 Wednesday before the senate committee on local government.
“We are not supposed to be in the business, in law enforcement, of generating revenue for the cities,” Fitch said. “I think, personally, municipal courts should be able to recover their costs, but they shouldn’t be profit generators. It’s not a business; you’re not supposed to be able to buy chairs for the mayor’s office with traffic ticket fines.”
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale), cited the way traffic citations can snowball with late fees, doubling or tripling of fines, arrest after missed court dates, and loss of jobs. Many towns, on the other hand, don’t want to lose the revenue:
City officials, including a few mayors such as Cool Valley Mayor Viola Murphy, testified against the bill.
“You have money that comes in, but it goes right back out,” Murphy said. “It goes back out to different funds that are needed … I wouldn’t want to see (the) battered women’s fund cut; I wouldn’t want to see police training cut.”
- Oh, no: “Ferguson to Increase Police Ticketing to Close City’s Budget Gap,” because three arrest warrants per household is still too low [Bloomberg News via Zach Weissmuller (& thanks for quote), earlier]
- In years 2011/12 alone, one Buffalo officer “killed as many dogs in the line of duty as the entire NYPD.” [WGRZ]
- “He believed the poor had the right to buy and sell.” Tunisia yes, Staten Island too? [David Boaz, USA Today]
- “The language of protest: Race, rioting, and the memory of Ferguson” [Abigail Perkiss, NCC/Yahoo, mentions me]
- “Red light cameras to go dark in New Jersey” [Josh Kaib, Watchdog Wire] “Public opinion swings hard against traffic cameras” [AutoBlog]
- On interpreting statistics on race and policing, point counter-point [Scott Alexander, Ezra Klein, Alexander] Reminder: increasing ranks of black officers does not necessarily lead to fewer shootings of black civilians [Jamelle Bouie, Slate]
- “Sex, Spice, and Small-Town Texas Justice: The Purple Zone Raid” [Reason.tv video]
- At least twelve Baltimore cops sought workers’ comp for stress after using deadly force on citizens [Luke Broadwater, Baltimore Sun/Carroll County Times]
- “D.C. Council votes to overhaul asset forfeiture, give property owners new rights” [Washington Post]
- A different view on Ferguson: Richard Epstein defends grand jury outcome [Hoover]
- “The House GOP leadership is blocking a police militarization reform bill from even getting a vote.” [Zach Carter, HuffPo, via @radleybalko]
- Will potential cost of citizen public records requests sink police body-camera schemes? [Seattle Times, ABA Journal]
- Marissa Alexander case, cited by critics of mandatory minimum sentencing, ends in plea deal [Brian Doherty, earlier, CBS Sunday Morning on mandatory minimum sentencing]
- Forensics guy hired by Michael Brown’s family: “If they want to think I’m a physician, then more power to them.” [Radley Balko]
- St. Louis County fines/fees: “Municipal courts charge $100 for Christmas gift of fake amnesty” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial]